DesignSafe Radio: RPI Wind Engineers Study How Buildings Fail


Listen to the FULL PODCAST: DesignSafe Radio episode 43



June 8, 2018 — Dan Lander and Dan Moore are wind engineers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute doing research using NHERI’s Wall of Wind facility at Florida International University. On this week’s show, they talk about their project and offer advice to prospective wind engineers.

Dan Lander
Dan Moore

Australian-born Dan Lander originally wanted to build things. When he discovered construction engineering held no joy for him, he switched to civil engineering, where he finds plenty of joy studying fluid dynamics. He recently completed his PhD at RPI. Dan Moore, about halfway through his PhD program at RPI, is from Vermont. Working the night-shift at a wind tunnel facility at the U of Vermont, he was fascinated by the invisible power of the wind — and by researchers with the skill to analyze the wind’s behavior. The pair do research together at RPI, with professor and wind engineer Chris Letchford.

Dan and Dan discuss their current project, which is examining the fundamental mechanisms that cause buildings to fail on the leading edge (roof eaves) under high wind loads. Lander says the goal is to design better tests for wind engineers, and then to build better wind-resistant structures.

Lander says the Wall of Wind facility is an ideal size — almost full scale, so they can get plenty of detailed data in a controlled environment. The researchers talk about the difficulties involved in scaling wind to small model structures. They discuss fluid dynamics and understanding what exactly the aerodynamic loading does that causes buildings to fail.

In their WoW experiments, they work with “archtype geometry,” squares and rectangles that mimic basic building shapes. Because fundamental research relates to how flow moves around squares and rectangles, the basic shapes are better than exact building models, they explain. There are a surprising number of complicated problems and unanswered questions they hope to address.

They discuss they types of sensors they use and, as they are in the early stages of the project, the importance of doing flow conditioning to “smooth out” the wind flow. They’ll introduce turbulence later in the study.

They explain the interdisciplinary nature of their work — which allows them to approach problems from different perspectives. Concurrently with the WoW experiments, the pair is running experiments at RPI in the aeronautical lab wind tunnel — where they get different types of data — and insights. At RPI’s Center for Flow Physics and Control, aeronautic engineers look at air foils and have different techniques for measuring flow, which are useful to wind engineers.

Moore and Lander offer good advice. For engineering students considering wind engineering, make sure you get along with your advisor, Lander says. Make sure he or she is someone you could maybe have a beer with. In general, research can be isolating, so surround yourself with people who inspire you and whom you’re happy to be around.

As for research advice, Moore urges young researchers to stay persistent, to keep moving, even when a problem is frustrating. Lander advises keeping good notes, whether on paper, in Excel, or in Matlab. And he recommends that researchers foster collaboration. It’s fruitful to have another mind looking at the problem with you, he says.

Host Dan Zehner adds that research notes also are important when it comes to data curation, so others can pick up where you leave off.