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Clarkson Tests New Beam For Transportation Department

Clarkson University recently conducted strength tests on a new type of beam that may have an impact on how bridges are built in the future. The fiber reinforced polymeric (FRP) beam is anticipated to be more durable and require less maintenance than conventional materials such as steel or concrete. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) requested Clarkson’s assistance in conducting the test in order to better understand the properties of the beam. NYSDOT engineers are designing an FRP slab bridge to be built next year using the properties of the tested beam.

Observers from NYSDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, the beam manufacturing company, consulting engineers and researchers from other universities gathered with Clarkson faculty and students in the Center for Advanced Materials Processing to witness Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Maria del Mar Lopez’s test of the beam.

The 32-foot long, 12-inch wide, 30-inch deep beam weighing 1,600 pounds and manufactured by Jerry D. Plunkett of Kansas Structural Composites, Inc., was subjected to load testing to determine its strength characteristics. The beam failed at 75,000 pounds of load by delamination on the top flange.

With the data from this test, NYSDOT can now refine the bridge design and also determine the safety factor of the bridge.

The research is important, said Lopez, because NYSDOT is planning the construction of an FRP slab bridge next spring, the second FRP bridge in the state, but the first one manufactured using a wet-lay up process.

What made the test particularly useful was that the beam tested had the same span as the planned bridge. Therefore, the results from this test are valid and will provide data to aid in safe bridge design.

“The research community is strongly encouraging the use of new materials in civil engineering applications,” she said. “But state agencies such as Departments of Transportation need to be able to trust the effectiveness of these materials.”

Sreenivas Alampalli, director of NYSDOT’s Transportation Research and Development Bureau, said that his agency began looking into fiberglass as bridge material about three years ago. “This material doesn’t corrode as steel does,” said Alampalli. “And it’s expected to last much longer, compared to steel.”

Lopez pointed out how important it is for Clarkson and state and federal agencies to work together in the development of new civil engineering technology.

“Even if we have a good idea,” said Lopez, “if we can’t prove to the public that it’s effective, we’re not going to be able to push this new technology. That’s why it’s so important to have federal agencies and the Department of Transportation coordinating with us what kind of tests would be useful for them.”

“At the DOT, we’re always looking to partner with universities in the state,” said Alampalli. “This is the first time we’re working with Clarkson on FRP products. Dr. Lopez has done some work in FRP areas, so we were able to talk to her and do this test co-operatively. This is the type of co-operation we’re always looking for.”

Lopez said the facilities at CAMP make such research possible.

“This laboratory is a great facility. We have the only structural engineering laboratory in the State of New York that has an integral strong floor and reaction walls. Each vertical tie-down of the strong floor has a capacity of 400,000 pounds. Students can also come and see the tests and they can see that what we’re teaching them in class is important and that it has some application in the real world.”

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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