FIU Receives $12.8M NSF Grant to Design an Extreme Wind, Surge and Wave Testing Facility

The new facility will become part of NHERI, the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure


Arindam Gan Chowdhury, principal investigator of the NICHE award and professor at FIU

Miami, Fla., Feb. 2, 2022 – The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $12.8 million four-year cooperative agreement to Florida International University’s Extreme Events Institute to support the design of a national full-scale testing facility capable of wind speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, combined with a water basin to simulate storm surge and wave action.

This Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-1 (MsRI-1 DP) project is formally titled “Mid-scale RI-1 (M1:DP): National Full-Scale Testing Infrastructure for Community Hardening in Extreme Wind, Surge, and Wave Events (NICHE).” The NICHE is intended to become part of NSF’s Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) – a distributed, multi-user national facility that provides the natural hazards engineering research community with access to research infrastructure that includes earthquake and wind engineering experimental facilities, cyberinfrastructure (CI), computational modeling and simulation tools, high performance computing resources, and research data, as well as education and community outreach activities.

Joy Pauschke, NSF program director in the division of civil, mechanical, and manufacturing innovation (CMMI) stated that “NSF invests in facilities like NICHE and NHERI to provide important research and educational opportunities for natural hazards engineering needed to ultimately protect life and property.”

“The envisioned NICHE responds to a pressing need for more resilient communities by reducing losses and disruptions due to climate-driven hazards, helping the U.S. and the world become more sustainable while enhancing the quality of life,” said Arindam Gan Chowdhury, principal investigator of the award and professor at FIU.

“Climate change is fueling more intense and more dangerous storms, and cutting-edge research and testing capabilities are clearly needed to meet the nation’s evolving risks,” said Richard S. Olson, director of FIU’s Extreme Events Institute. “In fact, and because the famous Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale only goes to Category 5, internally we call this our ‘Cat 6 project.’”

FIU is already home to the Wall of Wind (WOW), a large-scale hurricane simulator capable of generating 157 mph wind speeds with rain intrusion. WOW has a 12-fan 8,400 horsepower system that allows researchers from across the country to refine designs and retrofit existing and new buildings, systems, and components. The WOW became part of the NHERI network in 2015.

Faculty from FIU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, including many involved with the WOW, will lead a multidisciplinary team of researchers and practitioners from eight other universities and the private sector to design the “Cat 6” prototype facility. The longer-term goal is to create an even larger scale NICHE facility capable of simulating the combined effects of extreme winds, storm surge, waves, and overland water flows on buildings, water and energy systems, roads, bridges, and other key infrastructure.

FIU’s academic partners for the NICHE project include the University of Florida, Oregon State University, Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Colorado State University, and Wayne State University. The principal industry partner is Aerolab.