High-Bay Research Facility

Three Story Tall Core Facility has Researchers Looking Up to a New Era of Discovery

The 3 story High-Bay facility will allow researchers to develop in full scale.

A vast, near empty room might not seem like the sort of thing that leaves people grasping for superlatives. But mention of the so-called high-bay facility that’s planned for GW’s new Science and Engineering Hall tends to invite sentiments like “unbelievable,” “indescribable” and “opening new doors” to projects, funding sources and hands-on learning.

“It would really be changing the whole game for us,” says Majid Manzari, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The three-story tall facility, professors say, would open a new chapter in research, with opportunities to scale-up their projects, compete more effectively for funding—and even bring to Foggy Bottom large-scale research that GW scientists have had to conduct elsewhere.

The high bay, one of five “core” research facilities planned for the building, would transform research capabilities by offering a few key elements:

  • a high ceiling in a large, open space
  • a “strong floor” and “strong wall”—reinforced surfaces that can withstand
  • the testing of materials against intense vertical and horizontal loads
  • a dedicated loading dock giving trucks direct access to the high bay
  • and a crane, anticipated to be capable of toting 20 tons of material, would be at the ready for moving materials around the facility, including to and from the loading dock.

While the high bay would be a boon to the work of GW engineers creating safer and more earthquake-resistant bridges and buildings, it also would benefit researchers like Philippe Bardet, in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who needs a high ceiling for his studies on fluid dynamics in nuclear reactors; and Bill Briscoe, a physics professor, who could use the open space to put up a portable clean room for building large detectors that are used in his particle research at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, in Newport News, Va.

Other researchers, like Sameh Badie and Pedro Silva, would have the opportunity to conduct at GW their large-scale research on bridges and buildings, instead of depending on facilities at other universities.

“For most of my research I need to test full-scale specimens,” says Dr. Badie, whose structural engineering work focuses on pre-stressed concrete bridges. The materials he works with are sometimes in the range of 50 feet long and 18 feet tall, he says.

Dr. Badie recalls his trying experience running an experiment remotely a couple years ago, which was being conducted at a university in Kansas. It was a three-month ordeal that required a few hours each day of directing the process by phone and email, and cost him more than a little sleep. “You have to be very careful—your test is being done a thousand miles away from you.”

Bringing that research to campus would keep grant money at the university, he and Dr. Silva say, and it would allow GW the advantage of being able to showcase that work for students, parents, government officials and anyone strolling by the glass-walled high bay.

A structures lab “is something that people can immediately relate to their daily lives,” says Dr. Silva, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We all live in buildings; we all drive over highways.”

For students, the high bay would bring a new dimension to coursework, according to professors. Instead of calculating the pressure needed, in theory, to crack a hulking piece of concrete, they could watch it break in the lab and compare their math to reality.

Dr. Silva likens the effect to merely telling someone that salt goes in soup—not sugar—versus letting them taste it for themselves. “That’s what the lab brings us, that physical connection.”

For more information on how you can support engineering research at GW, please contact  Alexander Dippold (SEAS) at (202) 994-4051 or dippold@gwu.edu.