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Civil engineering professor elected to Fulbright Program roster

MU Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Professor Vellore Gopalaratnam’s three professional passions are in infrastructure research, helping civil engineering departments grow in research and education and building working relationships between institutions and private industrial partners. He’ll have the chance to check all three boxes in his latest accomplishment.

The Fulbright Specialist Program selected Gopalaratnam for a five-year stint. As part of the program, he’ll have the chance to make multiple 4-6 week visits to various projects around the world both to learn and to share his expertise.

Gopalaratnam poses in his lab.

The Fulbright Specialist Program selected Vellore Gopalaratnam, MU professor of civil engineering, for a five-year stint. As part of the program, he’ll have the chance to make multiple 4-6 week visits to various projects around the world both to learn and to share his expertise.

Gopalaratnam initially expects to work with a pair of institutes he’s worked with in the past — Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) in Chennai, India, and Amrita University in Coimbatore, India — on projects related to precast, prestressed concrete technologies suitable for commercial implementation in bridge and tunnel projects.

“My specialty is failure of materials, advanced composite systems and state of the art testing of materials subjected to fracture and fatigue,” he said. “My interest, in terms of research, is in the materials, transportation, bridges, pavements, etc. So I’ve been working with institutions in India for a number of years, as well as in Spain, Japan and Italy during my earlier sabbaticals.

Gopalaratnam spent a semester at IIT-M as a visiting professor in 2015 and has been actively engaged with Amrita University during the last three years. The two institutions have different backgrounds and research lineages, and he said he’s looking forward to helping them both in their efforts to upgrade facilities and research in civil infrastructure.

“The IITs are fairly advanced. They’ve been around for a number of years and are well established for undergraduate and graduate work,” he explained. “Whereas some of the newer institutions — Amrita University was established in 1994 — in that very short period, just because it recruited top faculty members and top students, they’ve risen to the No. 1 private ranking in India. A large part of that is due to its highly ranked undergraduate programs. It’s still in the process of building research labs and graduate programs.”

There are some differences in the way big infrastructure projects such as bridges and tunnels are implemented in the United States as compared to India and different regulations that must be complied with. Gopalaratnam said one of his goals is to make engineering leaders, academicians and policy makers in India aware of how large infrastructure engineering projects are efficiently executed in the U.S. by a multi-agency team that includes government, private sector and academic institutions.

”Large investments in underground/over ground metro-rail in India offers unique opportunities in tunneling and bridge research, involving innovative materials and new construction technologies,” he said. “That is one area where I think I can combine both my passions as a part of the Fulbright Specialist assignment. Short courses for researchers and faculty development, in addition to workshops for government and private sector engineers, will go a long way in making useful contributions to the host-institutions.

“I hope we can bring some of the research challenges that are unique to emerging economies, like India’s, here and have some of the U.S. companies who have expertise to be able to complete projects there through collaborative ventures. I’m exploring all of these options.”

Gopalaratnam added that even though the initial focus is on Indian institutions, he also looks forward to working with universities in Vietnam and Italy. Exposure to different universities around the world through programs such as the Fulbright Specialist Program is a great way for MU and the College of Engineering to build strong research partnerships, as well as raise awareness of the high quality of work produced by Mizzou Engineering researchers to fellow engineers around the globe.

“I think an institution like Amrita is up and coming, and it is the kind of opportunity that we at MU can use as a very good springboard for our international presence,” Gopalaratnam said. “Because this is a university that’s barely two decades old, and if you get in at the entry level working with them, it gives us a lot of opportunities down the road.”