Undergraduates design, build and test concrete beams

Andreas Stavridis discusses concrete beam's reaction to testing in UB's SEESL lab. Photo: Jackie Baum

By Peter Murphy

Published December 19, 2019

Students in associate professor Andreas Stavridis’ reinforced concrete design class had a chance to experience something most undergraduate students do not: seeing the beams they designed and built put to the test.

Real-world testing in a lab setting

“Seeing their designs put to work is an important experience for the students. Building and testing their own concrete beams helps them better understand what we discuss in class ”
Andreas Stavridis, Associate Professor
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

Each year, students in CIE 429 learn about the theory associated with the analysis and design of beams, slabs and columns made of reinforced concrete. This semester, Stavridis and Seyedsina Yousefianmoghadam, a UB alumnus and post-doctoral researcher, added another element to the course.

“I thought that our students need to see what it takes to construct what they design. We asked students to design and construct a rectangular reinforced concrete beam,” Stavridis says, “seeing their designs put to work is an important experience for the students. Building and testing their own concrete beams helps them better understand what we discuss in class.”

Thirty-eight students split up into teams of four to complete the concrete design process, from start (conceptualizing, analyzing and designing) to finish (constructing and testing the beams). Each team was given different loads, so that all beams were different.

Students had to design their beams in accordance with the building code requirements for Structural Concrete from the American Concrete Institute (ACI). Then they had to build reinforcing cages and cast the concrete inside the form work they constructed with the help of a contractor.

A concrete beam has several fractures after being tested in the SEESL lab.

“This project was awesome in demonstrating the difference between design and construction,” says civil engineering senior Sean Buchner, “It showed us that you can use five decimals in calculations, but things will not be done as accurately in the field. This project also drove home how much we over design things.”

Some teams unintentionally built beams with flaws, but Stavridis says students benefit from analyzing imperfect specimens. “Seeing the challenges of construction, and the difference in behavior of poorly-designed, well-design and over-designed beams was part of our goal,” Stavridis says, “That cannot be taught in a lecture. Sometimes we learn more by making mistakes, and fortunately, the ones made in this project helped me point out the importance of good designs.”

This also gave students an opportunity to develop an understanding that may not be possible through theory and calculations alone. "Our drawings, which are simplified on paper, sometimes are not visualized well by engineering students. I frankly did not even know what a stirrup was until I was able to physically tie it onto the rebar," says Wakil Pranto, a civil engineering senior, "Testing the beams demonstrated how the engineering codes we utilize are over-designed for safety measures."

Students constructed and tested their beams in UB’s Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL) in Ketter Hall. They worked with SEESL staff to test their specimens to failure.