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NSF funding will support five graduate traineeships

By Lynn Nystrom

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 18 - February 2, 1995

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced it intends to fund five Graduate Research Traineeships in Civil Infrastructure Systems at Virginia Tech at a total value of more than one-half-million dollars.

The nation's infrastructure is composed of bridges, buildings, pavements, waterway networks, and water, sewage, and electrical distribution systems. These structures are "aging to the point where major repair, rehabilitation, and replacements are imminently necessary," says Richard Weyers, director of Virginia Tech's Center for Infrastructure Assessment and Management.

"For example, approximately 40 percent of the 570,000 bridges on the Federal Aid Network are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Present replacement costs are estimated at more than $150 billion," he said.

The assessment of the existing components of the nation's infrastructure is a "very difficult task," Weyers reports. Most of the deterioration takes place internally on a microscopic level. To identify a problem inside a concrete-steel bridge, for example, requires what engineers call non-invasive testing.

In a sense, non-invasive testing could be compared to x-raying a part of the anatomy to determine if there is a medical problem inside the body. However, with structures, the non-invasive testing is more difficult because of the volume of material to be tested.

As engineers build new structures and design replacements for failing components, new technology will allow the inclusion of health-monitoring systems to be placed inside the facility.

Educating students who are adept in using non-invasive evaluation methods and who will be responsible for developing future monitoring systems will be the purpose of the NSF grant.

Weyers explains that these students will need expertise in material science, non-destructive testing, structural mechanics, construction engineering and management, and sensor and control-activator technologies. To gain this breadth of knowledge, Weyers' center is working with several other Virginia Tech centers: the Center for Composite Materials and Structures, the Center for Intelligent Materials Systems and Structures, and the Fiber and Electro-Optics Research Center.

The NSF Fellowship will be for a five-year, master's through doctorate, interdisciplinary graduate research traineeship program. Each traineeship will have a five-year total value of approximately $110,000 per student. The traineeship is limited to U.S. citizens

Participating faculty members will develop a core-course curriculum that will complement the interdisciplinary nature of the five research centers.

For more information on the traineeships, contact Richard Weyers, Via Department of Civil Engineering, Patton Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. 24061. The fax number is 1-7532. E-mail is rweyers@vtvm1.cc.vt.edu.