UH engineering professor aims to improve quality of bridges
Civil engineering professor Yi-Lung Mo recently received more than $1.2 million in funding from the Texas Department of Transportation for a research project to improve the quality of bridges and cut costs for design, construction and maintenance.
Mo has spent years of research focusing on concrete structures such as bridges, building, off-shore structures and nuclear containments while continuing to teach at UH. The Cougar sat down with Mo to talk about his research and its potential impact on future engineering designs.
TC: What does your research you are working on entail?
YLM: I’m working on a new project for TxDOT. I (am) try(ing) to improve the quality of bridges. Don’t get me wrong, TxDOT bridges are already very good, but I can improve (them) further at the same time. I can cut the cost of design, construction and maintenance.
TC: Can you give a simplified version of how are you planning to achieve that – both improving quality and cutting the cost?
YLM: For the existing bridge systems — there’s two projects, actually, one is for column and another is for bent cap, those are components of bridges. I have some new ideas on how to improve the design. The structural performance will be better. At the same time, we found that the cost for design, construction and maintenance will be reduced. (From) the beginning, I just used (a) computer to model my idea, and then after we performed the analysis and found it works… (we realized) we can do this project. We will do more detailed analysis. After that, we will build and design a full-scale specimen for testing in our structural lab. Even though the computer model looks good, to prove it, we have to do physical tests. If physical testing prove it works, we receive TxDOT money.
TC: When do you plan on actually building that model and starting the testing?
YLM: In about one year. The first year, we will focus on the computer modeling, and by the end of the year we will start the designing (of) our test specimen. Then we’ll perform the full-scale test.
TC: You’re not working alone, obviously – there’s a team of other researchers?
YLM: I work with Dr. (Thomas) Hsu, my colleague.
TC: There was a report that said that about 10 percent of bridges in the U.S. are structurally deficient. What are your thoughts on that?
YLM: Our infrastructure was built more than five decades ago…in the 1960s. It’s already (been) more than fifty years. We need a lot of maintenance, and if the maintenance is not so good, the bridge systems may deteriorate. Of course, we are also working on new materials (and) development. Fast-strength-developing concrete, for example. If we find some cracks that we need to fix fast, we have to block the traffic. We try to block the traffic for as short as possible. By now, we have developed the materials so we can have the strength in four hours. That means, we block the traffic – maybe block one lane for four hours – then we open the traffic again.
TC: This is not the first grant you have received: overall funding is around $5 million so far. How do you feel when you see so much support from government for your research?
YLM: First, I appreciate our university. Universities support research so much so we can go out and compete. Number two, my understanding is that TxDOT had put money in research for all the universities in the state of Texas. Of course, we are to compete, but this is a very positive way for us to educate the young generation. Once we get the project, we will recruit several Ph. D. students. When we’re finished, they’ll become experts in bridges.
TC: Are there any other ways that you think this research benefits UH?
YLM: Of course. This project benefits the research a lot, because we will produce our (doctorate) students. The number of (doctorate) students in (the) University will increase. This is very important. And also, while performing the research, we need some new equipment, new systems. For all this we got money in this grant from TxDOT. So our research facility (and) research environment keep improving.
TC: What grants have you gotten so far?
YLM: In addition to TxDOT, I also got financial support for research from the National Science Foundation, from the Department of Energy and from the Department of Education.
TC: So what’s next? After what you’re working on right now is done, do you have any long-term plans?
YLM: I hope we could set a model, a role-model for how to deal with this kind of research or educational problems. We have to educate our students first. They need to have sufficient computer technology knowledge. And then they understand the basic theory and go to analysis. After, they have to create a model, and then they have to learn the experimental mechanics so they will know how to perform full-scale physical testing for all kinds of structures, to prove our theory.