Is The Next Frontier of Structure Engineering Our Backyards?

Education - Lecture/Discussion - WPI Only

Thursday, November 14, 2013
12:00 PM-12:50 PM

Kaven Hall

Speaker: Steven W. Cranford, Assist. Professor,Civil & Environmental Department, Northeastern University
Abstract: What do bridges, buildings and spider silk have in common? Bridges and buildings are classical examples of structures  designed and built according to codes (or a keen engineers intuition!) that serve a specific purpose (a bridge! a hospital!). Silk, in contrast, is classified as materials  like the steel and concrete components of a building. But what can we discover if we start considering such materials, not as bulk materials, but as simple structures with specific functions? Civil engineers by tradition are concerned with the big picture, but advances and challenges in nanotechnology require a refocusing of expertise. Enhancing the performance of engineered structures may depend on finding materials with properties that are substantially improved over existing candidates, and we are increasingly turning to Nature for inspiration. An emerging field of research with intriguing potential to transform the entire engineering process is biomimicry  that is, researching bio-inspired materials and systems to learn from Natures often superior solutions to technological problems. Despite this potential, there have been no significant changes in either the materials or systems of our built environment, particularly in the field of large-scale structural engineering. One of the key differences lies in the approach of material selection  rather than select a material based on known properties and behaviors (e.g., steel, concrete), Nature designs specific materials for particular functions. Here, we look at the particular behavior of spider silk, and how the material response enhances the performance of (a) spider webs under load and (b) spider web anchorages and connections. While not an ideal material for structural engineering (we do not wish to construct webs nor swing from the sky like Spiderman), spider silk exemplifies the synergy between material and structure, as it has been uniquely evolved for physiological functions. As experts at structural design, civil engineers can (and should) use their expertise to design and understand the behavior of materials as structural systems across scales.
Bio: Prof. Steven W. Cranford attended Memorial University (NL, Canada), where he pursued my undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering (B.Eng., Co-op., 2006), with a focus on structural design. From there, he attended Stanford University and received a Masters degree (M.Sci., 2008) in Structural Engineering, specifically seismic design. Changing scales dramatically, he joined the Laboratory of Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics (LAMM) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pursuing his doctorate (Ph.D., 2012), within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His doctoral research focused on multi-scale molecular dynamics and computational mechanical characterization of novel nanoscale systems, both synthetic and biological, bridging atomistic to mesoscopic to continuum scales. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, founding the Laboratory of Nanotechnology In Civil Engineering (NICE).

Suggested Audiences: Adult


Last Modified: November 12, 2013 at 2:16 PM

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