PhD student earns award to fund research using UB's wind tunnel

By Peter Murphy

Published April 6, 2021

“Scaling with models is always an issue,” says Michael Murphy, a PhD structural engineering student in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, “you can have a larger scale sectional model to get more accurate aerodynamic properties to pair with a virtual model in order to model the global behavior of the structure.”


Murphy’s grant from the Structural Engineers Foundation is for $2500 and will partially fund his work on real-time aerodynamic hybrid simulation. Murphy’s advisor, associate professor specializing in wind engineering, Teng Wu, has conducted research in this area before. Both researchers will utilize UB’s wind tunnel and combination of physical and virtual modeling. 

“So imagine a bridge deck in the lab. If we did a larger scale or a full scale, we would have an entire bridge, but we just have a partial segment of the deck,” Murphy says, “we can model the aerodynamic characteristics of the bridge segment in our wind tunnel, and the global behavior of the bridge segment and its aerodynamic characteristics is modeled virtually.”

Mike Murphy.

Murphy says researchers can utilize the hybrid modeling to get a more accurate representation of what the bridge’s aerodynamic properties are using this method. While this is the focus of research for this specific funding opportunity, Murphy is exploring other wind-related research areas including the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for wind tunnel control to model various types of wind events. 

“I’m considering the research topic AI-Empowered wind tunnel. That’s basically using an AI algorithm to control the fans of the wind tunnel in order to get a specific velocity profile,” Murphy says, “we can use this to learn more about the velocity profiles of not only thunderstorms and downbursts, but potentially hurricanes and tornadoes as well.”

Murphy began his academic career at UB in 2014. He graduated with his BS in civil engineering in 2018, and his MS in civil engineering with a concentration in structural engineering in 2020. He entered the PhD program last fall.