Bowen Lab earns Bechtel’s Innovation of the Year award

Amit Varma (Charles Jischke/Purdue University Photo)

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN — Bechtel Corp. recently presented its Innovation of the Year award to Bowen Laboratory at Purdue University for its contributions to a large-scale government project. The award recognizes proven innovations that have delivered unprecedented results within the company’s execution model.

“Our partnership with Purdue helped us develop a new approach to a construction challenge on a project with U.S. national security implications,” said Keith Churchill, chief innovation officer at Bechtel and a Purdue alum. “Partnerships with research institutions like this are valuable to the industry, bringing new ideas and scientific rigor to innovations that improve our processes.”

The project that the Bowen Laboratory team supported required robust concrete construction of multiple underground facilities. The facilities have stringent requirements for safety and constructability at scale. To meet these goals, Bechtel leveraged the company’s relationship with Amit Varma, director of large-scale civil engineering research at Bowen Laboratory. The request entailed producing experimental data based on a proposed design incorporating a steel-plate composite.

Varma led a team from the Bowen Laboratory througha detailed engineering analysis and business case, marking the first time this steel-plate composite solution was pursued for this specific use. In less than two years, eight test series have been created. The work will be completed by this summer.

“Steel-plate composite construction is an alternative to traditional reinforced concrete,” Churchill said. “Steel plates act as form work for the concrete, eliminating the installation of rebar and reducing the complexity of the concrete pour activity. As a result, we can modularize our construction to increase safety and efficiency, maximize productivity in the shop, and increase the precision of the fabrication process to ensure high quality in our builds.”

The efficiencies gained by using Varma’s research resulted in a modern solution that takes advantage of the properties of steel and concrete while offering construction economy and structural efficiency.

“The recognition from Bechtel is quite the honor since the company has many, many submissions across its multitude of construction projects around the world,” Varma said.

This work is particularly rewarding for Varma. He built his academic and professional life around the development of innovative steel-concrete composite structures for infrastructure, including commercial and residential buildings, and industrial structures such as nuclear power plants.

In addition to his work with Bowen Laboratory, Varma serves as executive director of Infrastructure Research and Innovative Solutions (IRIS), one of the four pillars of the Purdue Applied Research Institute. Through IRIS, students explore the materials and construction that will build the next generation of facilities for national security and defense applications, and energy and power infrastructures. “As a professor, one of my greatest professional responsibilities is to encourage and inspire the next generation of civil engineers,” Varma said. “Seeing this work recognized in this way – that is a great motivator to them.”

Writer/media contact: Evamarie Socha,