Santa Clara University


A Civil Solution

Needing a large testing facility for student and faculty research while facing space and budget constraints, civil engineering professor Reynaud Serrette had to get creative to find a solution. He reached out to alumnus Georgi Hall '96, M.S. '98, director of engineering at California Expanded Metal Company (CEMCO), and a fruitful collaboration was launched with the addition of a Santa Clara University Civil Engineering Annex Laboratory at the company's Pittsburgh, California, facility.

Michaela Nava conducts research at the Annex Laboratory
Michaela Nava '13 at the Annex Laboratory
Photo: Heidi Williams

"CEMCO is the largest manufacturer of cold-formed steel framing and metal lath in the Western United States," said Serrette, "and they were already involved in full-scale experimental testing. They've provided space, materials, and personnel for us and they benefit from our expertise and research."

Michaela Nava, a senior in SCU's five-year combined BS/MS civil engineering program, works in the Annex where she is leading a project to evaluate the performance of light frame shear walls with different aspect ratios and panel constructions. She and CEMCO's lab technician built twenty walls during the fall quarter and they are currently in the test phase. "We're learning about the reduction in strength for shorter walls," she said; "The trend in architecture is to have more windows and open space, so there is less room for walls; but the shorter the wall, the less strength to resist load. I'm conducting tests to mimic lateral load on the wall, documenting the damage from each test with video and still photography and graphing the results." Michaela, whose work in the Annex is funded by a Clare Booth Luce scholarship, has gotten a wide range of experience there. "It's been really cool—I've had to budget, price materials, schedule work to be done, procure donations of steel from CEMCO, and help to design and fabricate the test equipment. There was a lot of problem-solving adjusting equipment to fit my project. I've had lots of freedom to do what I want and it's a good opportunity to get published, because I will write a paper at the end of the project. Everyone here is really nice; I get advice from Georgi, and Dr. Serrette helps me a lot."

Georgi Hall '96, M.S. '98 helps lead the next generation of civil engineers.
Georgi Hall '96, M.S. '98, helps lead the next generation of civil engineers.
Photo: Heidi Williams

For his part, Hall sees the collaboration as a win-win situation. "Based on the work SCU is doing here, we've expanded the capabilities of our facility and increased the scope of our accreditations, adding other fields of structural testing, which generates revenue for us." He also enjoys mentoring the next generation of civil engineers. "Michaela talks with us about projects we're working on. We have the latest and greatest equipment, tools, and software available to our staff and she has free access to these resources as well. She can also interact with CEMCO personnel to learn about new, emerging technologies within the cold-formed steel framing industry such as BIM (building information modeling), and our expertise with codes and compliance. To have research done and realize its outcome being applied to real world applications in the design of cold-formed steel structures all happening in one place is a huge benefit for the students and it's a great opportunity for CEMCO to have a closer connection with the academic world."

On-campus civil engineering facilities expanded

In addition to the Pittsburgh Annex, the Department of Civil Engineering has also expanded on-campus facilities with the addition of a 200 sq. ft. interim high-bay structural test frame housing three independently-controlled hydraulic actuators (one horizontal and two vertical). The new space has overhead hoists and ready access to the street, enabling installation of specimens up to 10 ft. by 10 ft., and the equipment is integrated with a highly sophisticated data acquisition and control system. Department Chair and Professor Mark Aschheim, internationally renowned for his work in performance-based earthquake engineering and development of bamboo as a structural building material, has developed interfaces for the sensors and controls specifically for student and faculty research. "We're performing different styles of testing for earthquake engineering: pseudo-static for slowly applied load—facilitating observation of a progression of damage—as well as pseudo-dynamic and shake table testing."

Civil Engineering students with test equipment
From left: Daniel Tzintzun, Alessi Sia, and Ronald Sippel test bamboo shear walls on "Big Bertha."
Photo: Heidi Williams

Dubbed "Big Bertha" by the students, the equipment which has a horizontal capacity of 160,000 lbs., a vertical capacity of 70,000 lbs., and approximately 30 in. of displacement, can be used to test large shear walls, moment resisting, or braced frames. "Up until now, we've had tremendous space challenges in our lab," said Aschheim, who leads a student team developing bamboo components for SCU's entry in the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon competition taking place in October. "This high bay space has allowed us to start testing vertical load applied to prefabricated bamboo wall panels that we intend to use as shear walls in the construction of our solar house. It's a tremendous set up—so useful for a lot of the testing we do in the lab."

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