Concrete check-up: Fae Azhari develops diagnostics for critical infrastructure

Professor Fae Azhari (MIE, CivE) holds a sample of the self-sensing concrete she designed. Her work helps monitor the structural health of crucial infrastructure such as bridges, roads and hydroelectric dams. (Credit: Roberta Baker)

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

Canada will spend $125 billion on infrastructure maintenance and expansion in the next 10 years. Professor Fae Azhari (MIE, CivE) is helping stretch those dollars farther by keeping our buildings, bridges, roads and reservoirs safe and structurally sound for longer.

Azhari’s research focuses on structural health monitoring. Just as you visit the doctor for periodic check-ups, structures need their health checked too — but instead of blood tests and heart rate measurements, engineers usually perform visual inspections and spot-checks with sensors and instruments.

“The problem with visual inspections is that they’re pretty subjective, and with periodic monitoring, you can miss certain events or failures,” says Azhari. “Now we’re moving toward continuous monitoring by incorporating permanent sensors on important structures to get real-time data.”

Degradation or damage suffered between inspections can have catastrophic consequences. In June 2013, a rail bridge just outside of downtown Calgary partially collapsed as a train was passing over it. The train, carrying flammable and toxic liquids, derailed. Emergency measures were taken to prevent the railcars from falling into the Bow River, which was running high with summer floodwater. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada determined that floodwaters had eroded the soil around the bridge’s foundations, causing the collapse. This loss of sediment from around foundational supports is called scour.

“Believe it or not, this happens very often, especially in North America and some Asian countries,” says Azhari. “Scour is a huge problem.”

For her PhD research at the University of California, Davis, Azhari tackled scour from a new angle: she took commercially available sensors that measure dissolved oxygen, typically used for agriculture or biological applications, and used them for sensing scour. Azhari’s design was to attach a number of oxygen sensors at increasing depths along the buried length of the bridge pier. If the pier is properly buried, the dissolved oxygen levels detected by the sensors should be very low — but as scour erodes the sediments and exposes the sensors to flowing water, the dissolved oxygen levels rise. As scour progresses, more and more sensors become exposed, indicating how badly scour is threatening the bridge’s structural integrity.

She has also worked on concrete sensors, including a design that integrates conductive carbon fibers and nanotubes into concrete, making it a self-sensing material. Measuring the resistance across the material reveals the stresses and strains on it. “This technology is well-proven in the laboratory, but moving it to the field is a big challenge,” says Azhari.

As she builds her research enterprise, Azhari plans to collaborate across disciplines and with key partners who could benefit from her sensors, as well her analysis and insight into the data that comes from them. “Transportation infrastructure, utilities, dams, power plants, wind turbines — basically any engineering system — needs maintenance and monitoring,” she says.

“It’s very important to get these sensors from prototype to implementation, and I want to work on that.”

Advanced imaging techniques let U of T Engineers see inside rock

Professor Giovanni Grasselli, left, with FCMG President Duke Anderson in October 2015. (Courtesy: FCMG)

This story appeared originally on U of T Engineering News.

Before drilling underneath a city of skyscrapers, engineers such as Professor Giovanni Grasselli need sophisticated models of how the rock below the surface might react to physical forces. (Credit: Jonathan Moore via Flickr)

“In cities from Toronto to Tokyo, before you undertake a massive infrastructure project such as building a new subway, engineers have to predict how the ground might react to digging a gigantic hole underneath a city of skyscrapers.

Professor Giovanni Grasselli, of the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering, is a world leader at modelling complex rock formations and predicting how they might respond to physical force. His work could be applied to predicting how drilling a new downtown relief subway line in Canada’s largest city could affect the stability of the rock underneath Torontonians’ feet.

“Toronto is sitting on shale rock, so any underground construction or tunnelling that is done in the city could benefit from a deeper understanding of this type of ground,” Grasselli said. “Whenever there is a disturbance to the rock mass, the risk of failures, including local instabilities and induced seismic shaking, increases so a greater understanding of how a region’s geology will behave can better inform our policy makers.”

Grasselli was recently named the inaugural recipient of the newly established Foundation CMG Research Chair in Fundamental Petroleum Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics, a research chair worth $1.35 million over five years.

His work is of profound interest to industry, as his imaging and modelling techniques help minimize the environmental impact of natural resource extraction processes.

Professor Giovanni Grasselli, left, with FCMG President Duke Anderson in October 2015. (Courtesy: FCMG)

“With better research, and fewer unknowns, we can avoid unnecessary environmental damage,” said Grasselli. “This Chair allows us to produce a strong body of research and develop technology for smarter unconventional petroleum production, which ultimately has the potential to contribute billions of dollars to the Canadian economy, all the while reducing the environmental impacts.”

Using innovative experimentation with X-rays, CT and MicroCT imaging, combined with computer simulations, his research group is generating better understand how spatial geometry and heterogeneity of reservoir rock formations will affect the efficiency of hydrocarbon production.

“We are excited to add Professor Grasselli and the University of Toronto to the FCMG ‘family,’ ” said Duke Anderson, president of Foundation CMG. “Our strategy is to work collaboratively with leading universities around the world, with the petroleum industry and various levels of government in the advancement of reservoir simulation.”

Foundation CMG is a not-for-profit organization that supports world-leading research and development to encourage innovation and leading-edge study into oil and gas reservoir modelling.

Three industry professionals leading U of T Engineering courses

Randy Sinukoff, a Senior Associate at Stantec Consulting Ltd., teaching his graduate level course, CHE1431H Environmental Auditing. (Photo by Tyler Irving)
Randy Sinukoff, a Senior Associate at Stantec Consulting Ltd., teaching his graduate level course, CHE1431H Environmental Auditing. (Photo by Tyler Irving)

Randy Sinukoff, a Senior Associate at Stantec Consulting Ltd., teaching his graduate level course, CHE1431H Environmental Auditing. (Photo by Tyler Irving)

 

 

 

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News Friends.

For Randy Sinukoff, the best part of being a course instructor is watching new understanding take root. “I love it when the light goes on in someone’s head,” he says. “I love it when they discover something they never thought of before, or realize something that they can apply to their own life and work.”

Sinukoff (ChemE 8T2, MASc 8T4) is a Senior Associate at Stantec Consulting Ltd. and is also the instructor for CHE1431H Environmental Auditing, a Master of Engineering course for full-time and part-time graduate students. He is one of a number of sessional lecturers who work full-time in industry and make time to offer their expertise to students at U of T Engineering.

In addition to his own course, which he has instructed since 2012, Sinukoff delivers guest lectures for students in fourth-year classes and volunteers for an on-campus mentorship program. He offers students first-hand knowledge of what it’s really like to work in industry.

Sinukoff clearly enjoys interacting with students, but he says that there are other benefits to himself and his company. “In my business, we don’t run ads; it’s all about the quality of the people we hire,” he says. “When you’re engaging with 20-plus students in a classroom, you can see who the future employees might be.”

Another advantage is reputational. “To teach, you have to be on top of your game and make sure that you’re current with everything in the field,” he says. “When people find out that I teach a course, they can see I know what I’m doing. That speaks to the credibility and professionalism of me and my company.”

Two more industry professionals who are involved with courses at U of T Engineering are profiled below:

Glen Ehasoo, P.Eng

Glen EhasooAs a new instructor, Ehasoo is eager to share his knowledge with fourth-year Mineral Engineering students and to help introduce them to the industry. “I recently relocated to Toronto and when the opportunity came up to help, it felt like a good way to become engaged in the local mining community,” he says, adding that building links with like-minded individuals is an important part of professional engineering.

Ehasoo is involved with MIN467H Mineral Project Design, a two-part course that focuses on the design of a mining project.  He is sharing his knowledge of the technical details of mine design and the applications of mine design software. “Computer models are only as good as the data you put into them — garbage in, garbage out,” he says. “You need to understand what is going on so that you can verify and understand the output.”

As a Principal Mining Engineer at RPA Inc., Ehasoo has more than 15 years of experience in the industry. He has consulted on project evaluations, due diligence reviews, open pit mine design, resource modelling, and mine scheduling. Ehasoo has worked on gold, silver, base metals, iron ore, coal, diamond, and rare earth projects in North and South America, Europe, and Asia.

Kim Iwasa-Madge, P.Eng (IndE 8T1)

Kim Iwasa-MadgeIwasa-Madge sees teaching as a natural extension of her own practice. “In my job, I was often involved in supervising and mentoring young engineers,” she says. “I found that very fulfilling.”

Iwasa-Madge teaches MIE542H Human Factors Integration. She is an expert in human factors engineering, which applies knowledge of human capabilities and limitations to the analysis, design and operation of products, services and systems. Through her own company, iMadgen Human Factors Inc., she provides consulting services, primarily for the nuclear power industry. For example, she might be involved with designing an operator interface in a control room to be more intuitive, minimizing the potential for human error.

Running the course in addition to a full-time job takes a lot of work, but for Iwasa-Madge it is worth the effort. “As a practitioner, we often work with interns or recent graduates, and there are capabilities we want our new hires to have,” she says, adding that through the course, she can help impart that knowledge.

Teaching also helps with other aspects of her job. “The course also makes me think about how to communicate human factors concepts — something that I have to do all the time, and not just with students,” she says. Still, like most lecturers, her favourite part of the job is meeting new people. “U of T has amazingly diverse students because the university is so multi-cultural,” she says. “Learning more about them and their goals is a lot of fun.”