Mackinac Bridge board sees world-class infrastructure research at LTU

SOUTHFIELD–Lawrence Technological University shared its advanced infrastructure research capabilities with the people who run one of the world’s most iconic bridges Thursday.

Four of the six members of the Mackinac Bridge Authority board and other Bridge Authority officials toured LTU’s Nabil Grace Center for Innovative Materials Research, informally known on campus as the Grace CIMR.

MDOT and Mackinac Bridge Authority figures touring the Grace CIMR.

Among them was Kirk Steudle, former director of the Michigan Department of Transportation who is now a member of the Mackinac Bridge board. Steudle graduated from LTU in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. He also serves on the LTU Board of Trustees and last year was inducted into the Michigan Transportation Hall of Honor.

LTU President Tarek M. Sobh and Nabil F. Grace, dean of the LTU College of Engineering and LTU vice president for research, showed off the CIMR;s capabilities. Among them:

* A concrete bridge beam reinforced by carbon-fiber reinforced polymer strands instead of steel rebar was broken in a pressure test–but only after more than 175,000 pounds of pressure was placed on it. The beam broke with a series of thunderous booms that made the assembled crowd jump.

It’s getting hot inside the Grace CIMR’s fire chamber.

* The CIMR fired up its signature test equipment, a heat chamber that can subject infrastructure materials to temperatures up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to conditions inside the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks, when burning jet fuel brought down the twin towers. Another carbon-fiber reinforced bridge beam was also subjected to about 50,000 pounds of pressure inside the heated chamber, taking over an hour to fail.

* Another beam was tested inside an environmental chamber large enough to fit a full-size auto or truck, covered in ice and chilled down to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

This carbon fiber reinforced bridge beam is holding, even at nearly 2,000 degrees and under 50,000 pounds of pressure.

* And an 0.7-inch length of the carbon-fiber reinforced polymer “rope” was pulled apart in another test chamber, breaking explosively when pulled by more than 100,000 pounds of force.

Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, chair of the Mackinac Bridge board, said he was thoroughly impressed by the testing equipment available at LTU–not to mention, as a longtime steelworker, the huge steel beams that support all the testing gear.

After the tour, the board was to hold a meeting Friday at the MDOT Metro Region Office at 18101 W. Nine Mile Road in Southfield.

The inside of the 40-below environmental chamber at the Grace CIMR.

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