Each year, hurricanes cause tremendous destruction across the globe. A team of NSF-funded scientists at Southern Methodist University's (SMU) Intelligent Data Analysis Lab (IDA) has developed a new forecasting algorithm called the Prediction Intensity Interval model for Hurricanes (PIIH), to help better predict hurricane intensity. Learn more in this Discovery.
Credit: Kenzie Schott, Southern Methodist University
North Carolina State University mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Afsaneh Rabiei set out to make a material as light as aluminum and stronger than stainless steel. Her goal was to create something that could be used in products that would save lives, save energy and eventually save money, all at the same time. She created an ultra-high-strength composite metal foam that is capable of making safety devices that can be used in body armor, biomedical implants, car bumpers and even in braces to protect historic buildings against earthquakes. Find out more in this Science Nation video.
Credit: Science Nation, National Science Foundation
In the end, it swayed but didn't fall. Perched atop the largest shake table in the world and subjected to a massive simulated earthquake, a six-story, wood-frame condominium stood tall, and the success of the test may lead to safer, taller wood-frame building construction in earthquake zones. Find out more in this Science Nation video.
Credit: Science Nation, National Science Foundation
While an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame, Mary Beth Oshnack worked with civil engineer Tracy Kijewski-Correa on modeling a hotel in Thailand that suffered structural damages under catastrophic tsunami waves. From that analysis, she came up with recommendations on how to improve construction within a tsunami inundation zone. A key finding was that elevating structures or using breakaway walls drastically reduces the forces that can damage a structure, reducing the area subjected to assault or allowing an incoming wave to simply pass through. Learn more in this Discovery.
Credit: Daniel T. Cox, Oregon State University
The mission of the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation of NSF's Directorate for Engineering is to fund fundamental research and education in support of the foundation's strategic goals directed at advances in the disciplines of civil, mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering, and materials design. In addition, the division has a focus on the reduction of risks and damage resulting from earthquakes and other natural and technological hazards.
Preliminary results from research at Rice University show more than a dozen Gulf Coast bridges on or near Galveston Island would likely suffer severe damage if subjected to a hurricane with a similar landfall as Hurricane Ike but with 30 percent stronger winds.
Researchers using Iowa State University's Wind Simulation and Testing Laboratory study the impacts of tornado and microburst winds near the ground and their effects on buildings and other structures. One goal is to develop innovative ways to make structures, particularly low-rise buildings, stand up to tornadoes, hurricanes, gust fronts and microbursts from thunderstorms.
There is no practical, economic way to build structures that could stand up to the savagery of EF5 tornadoes but damage from lesser storms could be reduced by better building practices and better enforcement of existing codes.
September 10, 2012
Manmade "Wall of Wind" Creates Hurricane Force Winds to Test Construction
Manufacturers learn quickly if their products could withstand the real thing
A Category 5 hurricane is a monster of a storm that most people would want to avoid. But, civil engineer Arindam Chowdhury actually recreates those monster hurricane force winds in hopes of helping people better prepare for the real thing.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Chowdhury and his team at Florida International University (FIU) and the International Hurricane Research Center designed a 15-foot-tall "Wall of Wind," aptly nicknamed WOW. The wall is made up of 12 giant fans, which can create the intensity of a Category 5 hurricane with 157-mph winds if the fans are running at full blast.
The goal is to see if low rise structures and building materials can withstand the same wind forces the structures and materials would face in a full-blown hurricane. "Based on our testing of rooftop equipment, such as AC units on building roofs, we made recommendations that are now in the Florida Building Code," says Chowdhury.
"Our long-term goal is to prevent hazardous wind from becoming a disaster," says Kishor Mehta, program director for hazard mitigation and structural engineering within NSF's Engineering Directorate. "This facility enables engineers to collect precise measurements of wind interacting with buildings, in addition to the visible evidence of the vulnerability of building materials exposed to hurricane force winds. This combination of basic research and visual evidence will lead to safer, more cost effective construction."
Manufacturers come to FIU to put some of their products to the test. During one test, researchers attach a solar panel manufactured by Power Panel Inc. to the roof of a small building. The building is secured on a rotating turntable directly in front of WOW. The turntable allows researchers to rotate the structure and expose the solar panel to wind from all directions.
In a nearby trailer, researchers huddle around computers at an informal control center. With the click of a mouse, they crank up the fans to create a fake hurricane. "I'm going to go up to 60 mph," says the researcher who is at the controls. He uses a walkie talkie to warn his team members who are outside preparing the building and the solar panel. Hearing that, they move out of the way as the fans start to blow.
Rob Kornahrens, part owner of Power Panel Inc., sits in the control room glued to a monitor as the test gets underway. Fan speed is increased to 90 mph. "We want to make sure the glass insert stays within the frame," says Kornahrens. "Second thing we're looking for is that the whole unit stays on the racking itself. Third thing is the attachment of the racking to the building. We want to make sure that doesn't come off the structure."
So far, so good, and the fans are now blowing at 120 mph. The building is swaying. The solar panel is staying on the roof. Sensors on the building measure the pressures on the panels. Satisfied with this first round, Kornahrens asks: "Can we flip it around?" Researchers shut off the fans and rotate the turntable to expose another side of the panel to head winds.
"Now we can see the effect of the wind and get the data from all the directions," explains Chowdhury.
"I don't think we'll see any damage to the panel based on what I saw," says Kornahrens. He is pleased with the results and with the test itself. "This is great. You can't get this in any other kind of test!"
Next up, testing roof tiles and a new adhesive tile foam. "That foam really works with this good tile," says Manny Oyola with Eagle Roofing Products. He is with his supplier Riku Ylipelkonen of 3M, the company that manufactures polyfoam roof tile adhesive. They, along with another roofing company owner, Tim Graboski, stand in the control room and watch WOW's forces on the roof tiles and foam.
The fans start to whirl, blowing 90, then 120, and finally 140 mph. The tiles and foam stay firmly on the roof and they pass with flying colors. But, does the building itself? Not so much. The entire structure lets loose from its foundation and flies off the turntable crashing in a nearby field. "It's a powerful machine," Chowdhury smiles, "even more powerful than I thought." On a serious note, Chowdhury says such foundation failures are rare.
Lessons learned on building materials and structures tested at WOW could help improve design and even save lives.
"The thing we feel good about is that 2012 is the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane that devastated south Florida, including Homestead," adds Chowdhury. "Today, we can simulate the hurricane strength of Andrew, learn from the tests and make changes to mitigate damages." Now, that's a WOW!
The research in this episode was funded by NSF through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.