Construction

  • Infrastructure protection“Smart” rocks detect bridge damage

    It is hard to gauge how structurally sound a bridge is when its foundation is buried in a riverbed deep below the water’s surface. New “smart” rocks which are being developed by researchers will give engineers an accurate, easy and cost-effective tool to monitor a bridge’s foundation, in real time. The leading cause of bridge collapse in the United States is scour, an erosion process where water flow carries away river bed deposits and creates scour holes around the bridge pier or abutment. Smart rocks placed at the base of bridge foundations are designed to roll to the deepest point of a scour hole and act as field agents to relay scour depths.

  • DisastersInnovative projects seek emergency housing alternative to FEMA’s trailers

    Brownsville, Texas may soon become a model for other hurricane-ravaged cities as community groups institute new emergency housing measures in the wake of inexcusable hold-ups on the part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in providing reconstruction support to the South Texas coast after $1.35 billion in damage from Hurricane Dolly in 2008.

  • InfrastructureNumber of structurally deficient bridges in U.S. declines

    The number of structurally deficient bridges in the United States has declined by 14 percent in the last six years, but despite the improvement, 10 percent of American bridges are in need of maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement. The average age of bridges in the country is forty-three years old, and most bridges were built to last for fifty-years, so eventually all bridges will become structurally deficient unless they are repaired or replaced.

  • InfrastructureRecession-related cost measures blamed for U.S. infrastructure lagging development

    In an alarming fall, the United States is currently ranked 19th in the quality of its infrastructure, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. Additionally, the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given the country a D+ on its annual Infrastructure Report Card, arguing that $3.6 trillion is needed by 2020 for maintenance and upgrades.

  • Infrastructure protectionBetter building design, maintenance would cut building sector’s emissions by around 80%

    The construction industry, which uses half of the 1.5 billion tons of steel produced each year, could slash its carbon emissions by as much as 50 percent by optimizing the design of new buildings, which currently use double the amount of steel and concrete required by safety codes. If buildings are also maintained for their full design life and not replaced early, the sector’s emissions could in total be cut by around 80 percent.

  • NukesFloating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

    By David L. Chandler

    When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

  • InfrastructureUsing more wood for construction will reduce reliance on fossil fuels

    A new study has found that using more wood and less steel and concrete in building and bridge construction would substantially reduce global carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption. Despite an established forest conservation theory holding that tree harvesting should be strictly minimized to prevent the loss of biodiversity and to maintain carbon storage capacity, the study shows that sustainable management of wood resources can achieve both goals while also reducing fossil fuel burning.

  • DisastersNIST issues final Joplin tornado report

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released the final report on its technical investigation into the impacts of the 22 May 2011 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri. The massive storm was the single deadliest tornado in the United States in the sixty years that official records have been kept. The NIST Joplin tornado study was the first to study scientifically a tornado in terms of four key aspects: storm characteristics, building performance, human behavior, and emergency communication — and then assess the impact of each on preventing injury or death.

  • Nuclear powerRussia leads, U.S. lags in construction of nuclear power reactors around the world

    Has a new cold war developed between Russian and the United States in the twenty-first century? Many argue that it has — but with a more unconventional front of commercial nuclear energy contracts with developing countries. Russian companies are building 37 percent of new nuclear reactors around the world; U.S. companies build only 7 percent of new nuclear facilities.

  • Flood defenseUnsupervised robotic construction crew to build flood defenses

    See video

    On the plains of Namibia, millions of tiny termites are building a mound of soil — an 8-foot-tall “lung” for their underground nest. They do so without a supervisor, foreman, or CEO to tell them what to do. During a year of construction, many termites will live and die, wind and rain will erode the structure, and yet the colony’s life-sustaining project will continue. Harvard researchers, inspired by the termites’ resilience and collective intelligence, have created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication: just simple robots — any number of robots — that cooperate by modifying their environment. In the future, similar robots could lay sandbags in advance of a flood, or perform simple construction tasks on Mars.

  • RailTesting vibration caused by high-speed trains

    New high-speed train lines are likely to be built as cities grow, and one problem planners have foreseen is vibrations in the ground caused by trains passing at speed. While these vibrations would probably be too small to damage buildings, they could disrupt the work of buildings such as a hospital by affecting sensitive equipment. Scientists have developed a new model to predict how much a new high-speed railway would shake the ground around it, and the effect this could have on those living near the line.

  • Coastal infrastructureCoastal areas must adapt to sea-level rise and storm surges or suffer massive damage

    A new study presents, for the first time, comprehensive global simulation results on future flood damages to buildings and infrastructure in coastal flood plains. Drastic increases in these damages are expected due to both rising sea levels and population and economic growth in the coastal zone. Asia and Africa may be particularly hard hit because of their rapidly growing coastal mega-cities, such as Shanghai, Manila, and Lagos.

  • EarthquakesQuake-vulnerable concrete buildings in Los Angeles area identified

    Researchers have identified nonductile concrete buildings constructed before roughly 1980 in the Los Angeles area. This category of buildings is known from experience in previous earthquakes to have the potential for catastrophic collapse during strong earthquakes. Nonductile concrete buildings were a prevalent construction type in seismically active zones of the United States before the enforcement of codes for ductile concrete which were introduced in the mid-1970s. A companion study estimates that approximately 17,000 nonductile reinforced concrete buildings are located in the most highly seismic areas of California. More than seventy-five million Americans in thirty-nine states live in towns and cities at risk for earthquake devastation.

  • EarthquakesIsrael considering earthquake-proofing important Biblical-period structures

    Israel is located in one of the world’s earthquake-prone areas, along the friction point of the African and Arabian tectonic plates.Officials in Israel are taking preventative measures to protect the country’s most important ancient sites from earthquake damage. Engineers from the University of Padua in Italy have installed sensors throughout the Tower of David, one of Jerusalem most important historical sites, to determine what sort of earthquake-proofing may be needed. Some experts opined that in the event of an earthquake, Jerusalem’s most ancient structures might actually be the city’s most dependable. “If they still stand after so many earthquakes during the last 2,000 years, they must be good structures,” one of them said.

  • EarthquakesNew L.A. fault map threatens Hollywood development projects

    The state of California recently released new geological maps which reveal the presence of an active earthquake fault along the path of major developments in Hollywood. The maps established a zone of 500 feet on both sides of the fault, and state law will require new developments within the zone to conduct underground seismic testing to determine whether the fault runs beneath planned development sites. Building on top of faults is prohibited. Three prominent Hollywood developments — the Millennium Hollywood skyscraper project, the Blvd6200 development, and an apartment project on Yucca Street — are within the 500-foot fault zone.