Young Researchers Push the Limits of Structural Engineering

Friday, March 21st, 2014
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The Young Researchers’ Conference is hosted every year by The Institution of Structural Engineers to showcase the very best in structural engineering research.

This year’s event was held in London and saw around 100 students, industry professionals and academics take part.

“All great professions are fuelled by research findings which allow boundaries to be pushed,” said professor Tim Ibell, vice president of the Institution and associate dean at the University of Bath. “The Young Researchers’ Conference is now in its 16th year, and its success simply multiplies year on year. It celebrates the greatest research being conducted by the future leaders of our profession, and it suggests important paths which could lead to successful innovation.”

The conference is split into two parts: the oral presentations and poster presentations.

Laurence Clough from the University of Southampton took first prize in the poster competition for his piece of work entitled ‘The synergistic response of structures to thermal and blast loading.”

When exposed to heat, steel structures can experience a considerable reduction in strength. Blast waves from explosive events also have a damaging effect on structures. While the response of steel structures to blast and thermal loads are thoroughly researched areas individually, when the blast and thermal loads combine synergistically on a structure, a different response may occur.

In every explosive event, there is both a thermal and blast portion. Parameters such as explosive size and standoff distance can affect the size, arrival time and duration of both sets of loads.

This project aims to investigate how steel structures respond to the combined thermal and long duration blast loads from large explosive events such as the fuel air vapour ignition that occurred at the Buncefield disaster in 2005, when the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal near London exploded. The blast measured 2.4 on the Richter scale and was reportedly the biggest incident of its kind in peacetime Europe.

“It is the objective that the experimental trials and parametric studies will be used to define key resistance functions for structural forms by reference to explosion sizes and comparing loading regimes with and without thermal flux,” explained Clough. “This research will be used to analyse the susceptibility of a building to the loading regimes specified and the necessary improvements made to the design if deemed inadequate.”

The Oral Presentation First Prize was awarded to Ross Johnston from Queen’s University Belfast, for “Behaviour of a cold formed steel portal frame in fire: full scale testing and finite element analysis.”

The primary aim of this project is to provide design recommendations for the design of cold-formed steel portal frame structures at elevated temperatures, using a performance based design approach. This is to ensure acceptable failure modes of such structures within fire boundary conditions.

Cold-formed steel portal frames can be a viable alternative to conventional hot-rolled steel portal frames for light industrial, commercial and agricultural buildings with spans of up to 20 metres. Despite this, research on the behaviour of cold-formed steel portal frames at elevated temperature is limited. Further research into the collapse mechanism is required in order to protect fire authorities, persons and adjacent buildings in close proximity to the structure.

“The results of the research will lead to improved understanding of the behaviour of cold-formed steel portal frames at ambient and elevated temperatures,” said Johnston. “It will provide practical design guidance for engineers and act as a base for further research into the behaviour of such structures at elevated temperatures.”

Leroy Gardner, Chairman of the Institution’s Research Panel, said the conference gave students a great opportunity to have their work seen and to network with others.

“There is always a terrific, lively atmosphere based on the exchange of ideas, which is tremendously motivating,” he said.

Arup Building Engineering Group director Ed Clark also lauded the conference.

“It’s truly unique, as one of the few opportunities we have as industry professionals to connect with researchers and see how their work reflects our own thoughts about the direction of structural engineering,” he said. “It makes you ask the old question again: does industry drive research or research drive industry?”

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