New building targeted for research

Courtesy Brian Haus
Courtesy Brian Haus
Expected to be completed by summer 2013, the new building will feature the world’s first wind-and-wave tunnel capable of producing Category 4 hurricane-force winds.
“The wind tunnel will allow us to test how buildings survive in a combination of storm surge and wind,” said William Drennan, RSMAS’ associate dean of undergraduate education.
By building model structures in the tunnel, scientists can see what parts of the structures are the weakest, which will allow for more effective designs of buildings in hurricane-prone areas like South Florida, Drennan said.
Brian Haus, an associate professor of applied marine physics, said the complex could improve the defects of the mathematical aspects of building design.
“The formulations for those things are based on data collected at much slower speeds,” Haus said. “There are a lot of things that happen very differently when you pass a certain threshold of wind speed.”
Hurricanes represent a great cost to coastal areas. Hurricane Wilma, which struck South Florida in 2005, caused an estimated $20.6 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The building will replace two aging facilities that will soon be demolished, according to Gary Hitchcock, director of RSMAS’ undergraduate program. There is no set date for construction to begin.
Seawater will be pumped in through the system and channeled underground to the wind-and-wave tunnel to simulate storm conditions, Hitchcock said.
To let seawater in, there will be a pumping and distribution system close to the bay.
Of the $47 million required to build the complex, $15 million is coming from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a part of the stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
The new building is to be LEED certified, indicating environmental friendliness.
Aside from labs, the complex will have additional rooms for meetings, Hitchcock said.
Though initial testing has begun, the groundbreaking date will depend on the result of public forums to be held in late February.
“I’ve been very enthusiastic and excited, but it’s been a very long period of design,” Haus said. “For those of us that have been intimately involved in the project for years now, things are moving forward, but we’re waiting.”
Although the project is not yet completed, Drennan is optimistic about its future impact.
“It’s the first new building we’ve had in 35 years,” Drennan said. “It’ll really change the campus.”
Gustavo Marques, a second-year Ph.D. student, is excited about the new project.
“It’s cool,” he said. “Scientists are going to be able to innovate new models.”