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Civil engineering students win first place in ACI competition

Two MU civil and environmental engineering students were recently awarded first-place honors in the American Concrete Institute’s (ACI) 2011 ACI Concrete Projects Competition.

Todd Witt

Russell Voss, a senior, and Todd Witt, who graduated last spring, wrote a paper of their combined undergraduate theses titled, “Analysis of Test Results for Evaluation of Alternative Resistance Mechanisms for Disproportionate Collapse.”

The paper discusses different resistance mechanisms for disproportionate collapse, which happens when a relatively minor event causes a large amount of damage. The term is used interchangeably with progressive collapse, which is the collapse of structures due to a failure in primary support, which leads to failures in additional support, resulting in partial or total collapse of a structure.

Russell Voss

An example, Witt said, is the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that was destroyed in the Oklahoma City bombing. In that case, the bomb had immediately destroyed primary support columns on the lower floors, which led to the collapse of the floors above.

Voss and Witt’s paper looks into the mechanisms used to prevent this type of collapse considering contributions from continuity of reinforcement (where the reinforcement in the concrete extends the full length along the top and bottom of the beam rather than stopping where it is no longer needed for flexure) and infill walls.

“We tested a specimen with continuous reinforcement through the entire length of the beam,” Voss said.

He said they found the results from continuous reinforcement specimen tests to show a substantial improvement over discontinuous reinforcement control specimen tests.

The paper examines how building codes of past and present have worked to prevent this type of collapse.

“We tested a specimen designed with 1971 codes and one specimen with current codes to see how far we’ve come along,” Witt said.

The building codes from 1971 were used as a general representation for the codes used at a time when many of today’s buildings were under construction. The Murrah building, for example, opened in 1977.

Voss and Witt heard about the competition through Sarah Orton, MU assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Witt said it was because of the insight gained from writing a paper for a competition that he and Voss decided to enter.

“We were pretty surprised,” Witt said. “We just entered it for the experience and the research.”

“I was pretty excited,” Voss said. “We really didn’t have any expectations when we entered.”

For winning first place, the pair won a $300 prize — which they will split — and both were offered an opportunity to present their paper at the 2011 Fall ACI Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Witt, who works for Paul C. Rizzo and Associates in Pittsburgh, Pa., said while he was honored by the invite, he will be unable to attend because he will be working on a project in Turkey at that time. Voss, who will graduate this May, said he chose to stay in Columbia for the Mizzou centennial homecoming.

When asked what he gained from the experience, Voss said writing the paper for competition has most helpful.

“I think a lot of kids go into engineering thinking, ‘I don’t have to write anything,’ but it’s really one of the first things you have to learn,” he said. “For any student who wants to get involved in undergraduate research: It’s a good way to apply what you’ve learned in class.”

Competition entries for the ACI Concrete Projects Competition may focus on concrete design, materials and/or construction, and may come in the form of computer programs, papers, student activities, senior projects or special projects. All students must be undergraduates at the time of entry.



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