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Developing dynamics


The much publicised vibration problems suffered by London's Millennium Bridge on opening in 2000 highlighted a shortage of knowledge among UK civil engineers about structural dynamics. A year later, the respected and highly influential Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS), made up of leading structural engineers, called for more to be done to educate engineers in this important field.

In its 2001 report SCOSS said: 'The design of dynamically responsive structures for safety and to meet performance requirements for acceleration and frequency is a relatively complex subject. It is perhaps not sufficiently well covered as a matter of course in the education and formation of civil and structural engineers.'

The SCOSS report recommended that engineers should learn the principles of the subject as undergraduates, but also felt there may be a need for more postgraduate courses specialising in structural dynamics.

Three years later comes the first new postgraduate course responding directly to this recommendation. In the autumn of 2004, Sheffield University will launch an MSc in earthquake and civil engineering dynamics.

The university has a high reputation for expertise in civil engineering dynamics. Research is backed up by experimental facilities that include a blast and impact test facility and equipment for low level vibration testing and monitoring of full-scale civil engineering structures prone to vibration serviceability problems, such as floors, grandstands, footbridges and staircases.

Now this expertise is being filtered down into postgraduate teaching in the form of the new MSc, which will cover vibration serviceability, blast and impact and earthquake engineering.

Professor Aleksandar Pavic, who was appointed recently to a personal chair in vibration engineering at the University's department of civil and structural engineering, says: 'The current level of knowledge across the board in the UK in these subjects - in particular vibration serviceability due to human movement - is poor. As a profession we are paying a high price for that because we don't understand how structures behave dynamically.

'What's very worrying is that brand new structures worth millions of pounds may continue to suffer from vibration serviceability problems.'

He says the new MSc will address this directly by incorporating subjects such as maths specifically aimed at dynamicists, and experimental dynamics for civil engineers.

The course will be run as a one year, full time intensive course consisting of 12 taught modules worth 120 credits equally split over two semesters, followed by a research dissertation in the summer semester worth 60 credits.

However, the university is keen to make the teaching available to as broad a group of engineers as possible, so the MSc can also be undertaken on a part-time basis.

The modules will be delivered in two or three week, stand alone, intensive teaching blocks, which will enable engineers to study individual modules on a CPD basis if they are not able to undertake the entire MSc. Pavic says this is particularly relevant to the engineering dynamics modules. 'I have had many requests from industry by people wanting to attend particular modules of the course, ' he explains. 'That is why we have made it as flexible as possible.'

Modules include elements of advanced structural engineering analysis and design, with the addition of specialised modules in mathematics for dynamicists, vibration engineering, blast and impact effects on structures, experimental dynamics and earthquake engineering.

By opening up these specialist modules to a wider audience, Sheffield University will be meeting another recommendation of the 2001 SCOSS report, which said:

'Practising engineers should also have more opportunity to develop their skills in identifying and designing dynamically responsive structures as part of their continuing professional development.'

For engineers able to undertake further study, the MSc course features in the so called New Route PhD initiative, a new development aimed at to producing research graduates who have a broad knowledge and specific research skills.

The New Route PhD in earthquake and civil engineering dynamics will take an integrated approach to design and construction problems arising from seismicity, impact and induced vibrations, and will provide the opportunity to advance knowledge and understanding of dynamics through research. The first year consists of the MSc, which will be followed by a three year PhD within the structural dynamics and vibrations research group.

INFOPLUS www. sheffield. ac. uk/civil/pg/ eced/

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