Students help engineer a better world

Research into engineering issues with valuable economic, social and environmental benefits will be featured by La Trobe University’s final year Civil Engineering students this Wednesday, 13 November 2013, at the McKay Theatre, Bendigo Campus.

Construction workers on a building sitePinpointing the severity and location of structural damage in ageing buildings without pulling them apart is the holy grail of infrastructure world-wide.

That – and research into other engineering issues with valuable economic, social and environmental benefits – will be featured by La Trobe University’s final year Civil Engineering students next Wednesday, 13 November 2013, at the McKay Theatre, Bendigo Campus.

For example, what is the best way to deal with floodwater run-off in an increasingly industrialised and urbanised regional city like Bendigo? 

How do you design multi-storey timber buildings to better withstand earthquakes, recycle crushed old concrete to make new concrete, pave high-traffic roadways with novel materials that use less tar, and improve the serviceability of rock ballast to stabilise railway lines in the harsh outback?

Effectiveness of computer models

Thomas Murrell and Maxwell Bailey will discuss their research into the effectiveness of computer models designed to assess the location and nature of damage, from notches to small fractures, which can develop over time in rectangular cross-section beams that hold up old buildings.

Head of La Trobe’s Department of Civil Engineering and Physical Sciences, Professor Joe Petrolito, says the study compares proposed computer analysis programs based on algorithms with practical results to determine the accuracy of such new prediction methods.

‘Given the large amount of infrastructure approaching the end of its design-life and the need to use these buildings as long as possible, the ability to monitor their structural health without major intrusive investigations is becoming increasingly important,’ he says.

Research by Joseph Borrelli and Jackson Renton deals with storm water run-off near Racecourse Creek, Epsom, where the City of Greater Bendigo is planning to build a levee bank. It sets out the effectiveness of different options and their costs.

‘With increasing industrial and residential development,’ says Professor Petrolito, ‘there is less unpaved soil that would otherwise absorb rainfall. As a result, run-off creates flooding in certain areas around Bendigo, and in other regional and peri-urban areas, that are experiencing population growth.’

Earthquakes, roads and rail

Two projects – by Chris Muller and Thomas Mckee and Matthew Compston and Dennis Gifford – focus on engineering issues related to earthquakes.

The first probes ways to improve the lateral strength of buildings with lightweight timber cores, as these are more environmental-friendly than structures made from steel and concrete. 

The second assesses damage to free-standing objects in buildings subjected to low and moderate earthquake activity – research that is potentially very useful for design engineers, the insurance industry and operators of critical facilities such as hospitals and power stations.

Saliya Ekanayake and Colby Madill have analysed the effectiveness for use on heavy-traffic roadways and bridges of an innovative low-profile composite paving material called Geogrid, which is made from a combination of concrete and asphalt.

Angus Bowles and Vincent Fitzpatrick – deploying state-of-the-art equipment in the University’s engineering test lab – have evaluated the behaviour of sand-contaminated railway ballast, an important issue in Australia’s outback where railway lines are near shifting sand dunes and can be subject to occasional flooding.

And work by Ashley Wilkie and Ryan Griffin throws light on an important, but to-date little researched topic: using recycled masonry as an aggregate for new concrete. This would have significant economic and environmental benefits, sending less waste to land fills and freeing up vital space for more urgent uses.

A list of all project presentations is available.


Photo opportunity

What: La Trobe University Engineering and Physical Sciences Research presentation
When: 12 noon, Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Where: McKay Theatre, Bendigo Campus, La Trobe University
Contact: Joe Petrolito T: 03 5444 7372 or Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications, T: 0412 261 919

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