New Purdue lab offers advanced water-engineering features

October 13, 2010

Cary Troy, a Purdue assistant professor of civil engineering, oversees a floor-to-ceiling interactive waterfall in the new Christopher and Susan Burke Hydraulics and Hydrology Laboratory. The cascading artistic feature will feed water into an actual working river model that will be used for demonstrations and experimentation in a special "sensor-based wet-lab classroom." The room uses a wall-size display made of multiple high-definition television monitors working in concert to show water data visually. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University on Saturday (Oct. 16) will dedicate a new civil engineering laboratory housing advanced hydrology and hydraulics facilities for teaching and research related to water resources.

"The new lab is equipped with ultra-modern facilities for preparing future civil engineers to address global water challenges," said M. Katherine Banks, the Jack and Kay Hockema Professor of Civil Engineering and Bowen Engineering Head of the School of Civil Engineering.

The Christopher and Susan Burke Hydraulics and Hydrology Laboratory will be dedicated at 9:30 a.m. in the Civil Engineering Building.

"Among the key challenges faced by developing nations is the struggle to obtain clean water and maintain clean waterways," Banks said. "Purdue civil engineers are poised to find solutions."

A centerpiece of the laboratory is a floor-to-ceiling interactive waterfall. The cascading artistic feature will feed water into an actual working river model that will be used for demonstrations and experimentation in a special "sensor-based wet-lab classroom."

"The water feature will serve as an aesthetic reminder of the lab's function and also as the headwater to a working channel in which classroom experiments will be conducted," Banks said. "The channel will also be used as an outreach tool for visiting students and community members, illustrating fundamental concepts in water engineering."

The dedication will include demonstrations of lab features and a student poster session.

The $1.65 million lab is being funded with $750,000 from Purdue alumni Christopher and Susan Burke, $250,000 from civil engineering alumnus Robert Shanks, and the remainder from other civil engineering alumni and Purdue.

Christopher Burke is a longtime supporter of Purdue's School of Civil Engineering and is chair of the Purdue President's Council Leadership Advisory Board. At his request, the waterfall will be named in memory of Purdue civil engineering alumnus G.V. Loganathan, a faculty member at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University who was killed in the 2007 campus shootings. He and Burke attended graduate school together and were close friends.

Loganathan's widow and children are expected to attend the dedication. 

Shanks donated money for the sensor-based classroom and will name it in honor of civil engineering professor emeritus A.R. Rao.

In the wet-lab classroom, students will be able to see water flowing in channels and take measurements to verify and explore fundamental concepts.

"People frequently learn best by doing, and this laboratory will not only change course content but also change the way civil engineering classes are taught," Banks said. "The laboratory will create a uniquely interactive teaching, research and outreach laboratory that will bring real-world, real-time hydraulics and hydrology to Purdue students, faculty and the community. Students will have opportunities to implement lecture concepts with hands-on, simultaneous experimentation and computer simulation."

Examples of the equipment to be used in the classroom are compact, laser-instrumented water channels and small-scale rainfall-runoff simulators for examining how changes in land cover affect stream flow.

"The classroom will also be used to demonstrate state-of-the-art measurement technology, such as an autonomous underwater vehicle, exposing students to sophisticated tools usually reserved for high-level research in hydraulics and hydrology," said Cary Troy, an assistant professor of civil engineering specializing in hydraulics and hydrology.

The new facility also will include a hydro-modeling computer laboratory and visualization studio, where civil engineering students apply hydraulics and hydrology models to actual rivers and watersheds.

Another major component of the lab is a two-story data visualization room to visualize the output of sophisticated, high-powered computer models capable of simulating flood hydrographs, three-dimensional water flow in rivers and lakes, pollutant transport, and meteorological-hydrological models.

Civil engineers worked with the Envision Center for Data Perceptualization operated by Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), Purdue's central information technology organization, where programmers combine advanced image processing techniques with the computational resources of ITaP's Rosen Center for Advanced Computing.

"The end products of this collaboration is a set of 3-D computer animations of fluid flow in natural waters, accessible to both researchers and the general public," Troy said. "These models generate hundreds of gigabytes of output, so we rely heavily on high-performance computer resources and the Envision Center to visualize the data. The data visualization room allows us to animate the data on big screens that anyone in the building can see."

The room uses a wall-size display made of multiple high-definition television monitors working in concert to show water data visually.

"The display leverages the visualization expertise we have in ITaP and the high-performance computing power ITaP makes available through the Community Cluster cooperative supercomputer program to turn a massive amount of data into an animated visualization useful for discovery and learning," said David Braun, a senior research programmer with the Rosen Center who leads the Envision Center.

The laboratory is located on the basement and ground floor of the Civil Engineering Building with an open viewing area from the main floor. The three-story, 20,315-square-foot laboratory will begin operating in November.

"The lab will allow us to create graduate-level laboratory classes that are so crucial to our upper-level curriculum," Banks said.

The sensor-based classroom will provide streaming video capability to allow classes to be broadcast worldwide. Just as importantly, she said, Purdue students will have the ability to participate in classes at universities across the globe. "Smart, integrated blackboards" will allow for the immediate display of data obtained in the classroom or from remote field sites, with computer software capturing images and uploading them to the Internet for later study.

In addition to civil engineering students, it is anticipated that the classroom space will be used by students in agricultural and biological engineering, earth and atmospheric sciences, mechanical engineering, and forestry and natural resources. 

Writer:  Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu 

Sources:   Kathy Banks, 765-494-2256, kbanks@purdue.ed u

                   Cary Troy, 765-494-3844, troy@purdue.edu

                   David Braun, 765-496-1363, dbraun@purdue.edu