Researchers from Missouri S&T are partnering with ten other universities to improve the safety of buildings and other structures by reducing the impact of explosives.
The research is part of a multi-university Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence called ALERT (Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats). Based at Northeastern University in Boston, the center conducts research, technology and educational development to understand, control and respond to explosives-related threats facing the U.S. and the world.
Dr. Jason Baird, associate professor of mining and nuclear engineering at Missouri S&T, is the principal investigator on the project.
The researchers use structural design and advanced hybrid materials to improve resistance to blasts and reduce fragmentation. To simulate explosives effects on buildings and other large structures, barriers and wall panels made of hybrid materials are tested by explosive detonations at Missouri S&T’s Experimental Mine. “Obviously, we can’t blast a structure that is to scale,” says Baird. “We have to restrict our work to materials testing.” Baird tests the explosive load – that is, what amount of explosives causes the material to fail. “We also work to control the shockwaves after a blast.”
The barriers and wall panels are made from three layers of materials. The front layer exposed to the blast wave is made from WF-FA (wood fibers and ASTM class C fly ash, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants). “We call this BMM – Blast Mitigation Material,” says Dr. John Myers, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, a co-investigator on the project. “Low density material makes up the center core and a reinforced concrete layer is put on the back face.” The entire structure then receives a final polyurea coating to help reduce fragmentation, the leading cause of injury and death in explosions.
After Baird blasts the panel, he records its response to the blast. Dynamic tests are performed by dropping weights on the structure to simulate the effect of detonations from bombs or other sources. Myers uses the data to calculate the effect on large buildings and other structures.
Math models of the blasting results are done by researchers at Washington State University. “We come up with the promising materials, and WSU uses a math model to illustrate why it does or doesn’t work,” says Baird.
Missouri S&T’s project, “ALERT: Optimal Design and Use of Advanced Structural Materials to Mitigate Explosive and Impact Threats,” recently received $150,000 in funding from the federal government. Dr. Samuel Frimpong, professor and chair of mining and nuclear engineering, is also a co-investigator for the project.
Another S&T project, “ALERT: Detection and Neutralization of Electronics Used with Explosives,” received $85,000 in funding. Principal investigator is Dr. Daryl Beetner, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Co-investigators include Frimpong and Dr. Steven Grant, associate professor; Dr. James Drewniak, Curator’s Professor; and Dr. David Pommerenke, associate professor, all in electrical and computer engineering.
Baird says the research is supporting several graduate and undergraduate students. “Many experts with explosives experience are retiring now. We are training the next generation of explosives experts and working with the military to understand the field.”