As autumn sets in, students and faculty shuffle back into the classrooms of the University of Alaska Anchorage for the fall semester. And members of the engineering department are settling into their new, state-of-the-art building.
The first room we come to is called the “high bay,” which spans three floors for nearly the entire length of the building.
As we walk in the door, a hoist capable of moving 10 tons to almost anywhere in the room hovers above our heads, holding a steel bridge, designed by students.
At the end of the room is a machine dubbed the “strong floor,” where students and staff test the strength of anything from wooden beams to reinforced concrete by determining the breaking point.
Engineering Professor Andrew Metzger says these tests have practical, real world applications.
“Before we specify them or install them in the field, they need to know how strong they are, to make sure the wind doesn’t push so hard that it fails them or on a floor if it can support whatever is on the floor,” Metzger said.
The brand new, 80,000 square foot “Engineering and Industry Building” triples the engineering department’s space on campus. The number of students in the program has more than tripled over the last 15 years.
Additional emphasis on labs allows students opportunities to apply what’s taught in the classroom in ways that weren’t possible on campus until a just a few weeks ago.
Right now, students are preparing to test the strength of a 4×12 foot insulated panel, which Metzger says could be used as part of a wall, floor or ceiling.
“They’re gonna load it until the panel breaks and then they know how strong it is,” he said.
Slowly, a jack pushes down, applying pressure to the panel.
As more force is applied, the panel starts to bend and crack, until the panel breaks in half, crashing to the floor under more than 5,400 pounds of pressure.
This is one of many ways engineering students will be able to turn the theoretical knowledge of the classroom into first-hand, practical experience.
The new building boasts several other labs for everything from fluid dynamics, to radio frequency, to electromagnetic, and, for those uniquely Alaskan construction problems, the Cold Regions Engineering Lab – or cold room, for short.
“You might be testing pavement for a roadway, concrete samples for a building, you might be testing those insulated panels that you just saw break,” Fred Barlow, the Dean of the College of Engineering, said, standing in the entrance two one of the Cold Rooms.
“So, there’s lots of applications where you need to know what happens to those materials, let’s say, over a long period of time in the kinds of conditions you’d find in Northern Alaska.”
And the Cold Room rooms allow students, researchers and faculty members to simulate those conditions.
Among the labs in the approximately $78 million building are plenty of classrooms – some of them even equipped with video conferencing, so long-distance students can attend lectures – and lots of open study space for the program’s 1,200-plus students, complete with a coffee shop.