Why do some buildings defy time, while others fail to withstand it? Structural engineering has the answer. Enter the domain of the Structural Engineering Research Centre, Chennai.

On November 7, 2008, a three-storey school building in Haiti collapsed. As many as 93 people, mostly children, were killed and over 150 injured. Fortin Augustin, a preacher, whose negligence had led to the accident, said that he constructed the building all by himself, saying he did not need an engineer as he had good knowledge of construction.

The tragedy occurred because the building lacked structural safety. Stability and safety are just two aspects of construction. Many other factors determine the health and economy of any structure. History is replete with great man-made structures. Some of them are architectural marvels. Some others combine splendour and utility. But one thing is common. All these must have followed fine principles of structural engineering.

Right from the Egyptian pyramids, Parthenon of Greece, Colosseum of Rome, Eiffel Tower in Paris and Angkor Wat in Cambodia to Taj Mahal in Agra, the temple towers of Madurai, Qutub Minar in Delhi, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and Burj Khalifa in Dubai, all are gifts of structural engineering. Modern structural engineering, a specialisation in civil engineering, has its focus on analysis and design of structures. Sometimes its domain enlarges to accommodate machinery and equipment, although its prime area is structures. Structural engineers working in certain areas may have to be proficient in materials, geotechnical engineering, and building regulations of the government.

Structures are usually designed on the basis of permissible stress. However, there may be instances where we use a specified factor of safety against ultimate failure of the structure. If a structural engineer has to make compromises for non-structural reasons, aspects of safety should never be subject to negotiation.

SERC

A prominent institution that has built up excellent facilities and expertise for the analysis, design, and testing of structures and structural components is the Structural Engineering Research Centre (SERC), CSIR Campus, TTTI Taramani P.O., Chennai – 600 113. www.serc.res.in. It is a national laboratory under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

The SERC undertakes application-oriented research in all aspects of structural engineering — design, construction, and rehabilitation of structures. It offers design consultancy services. Its R&D initiatives develop technology and expertise for safe designs and construction practices.

Areas of research

Development of improved analysis, design, and construction techniques for complex structures such as shell roofs, transmission lines, microwave towers, other tower-like structures, ships, offshore structures, and machine foundations.

Cost-saving precast construction techniques.

High-strength deformed bars, funicular shells, fibre-reinforced concrete manhole covers, and ferro-cement water tanks.

Computer software packages for computer-aided analysis, design, and drafting.

Structural concrete engineering and technology.

Sustainable materials and composites and retrofitting and rehabilitation of structures.

Computational structural mechanics for analysis and design, modelling, simulation, and software development (precast concrete structural systems under seismic loading, performance evaluation and upgrade of bridges and advanced finite element analysis techniques for higher order regimes, procedures for seismic performance evaluation of existing steel structures, and vulnerability analysis of buildings and structures against earthquakes).

Transmission line towers, metal structure behaviour, and fatigue and fracture (development of minimum weight designs of power transmission line and microwave communication towers, optimal designs of industrial structures, and “load and resistance factor design” method for steel industrial buildings).

Structural health monitoring and evaluation and forensic analysis (Methodology of remote health monitoring for civil engineering applications, fibre optic sensors for health monitoring of civil engineering structures, assessment of existing stress in concrete and pre-stressed concrete structures, and residual stress measurement on metallic structures).

Wind engineering and earthquake engineering (wind tunnel studies on special structures, seismic damage control strategies for structures, wind tunnel investigations on structural models, new structural schemes for better earthquake-resistant performance, and development of vibration control devices).

R&D facilities

Structural testing laboratory

Structural health-monitoring laboratory

Advanced seismic testing and research laboratory

Advanced computational mechanics facilities

Tower testing and research station and steel structures research facility

Fatigue and fracture laboratory

Wind engineering laboratory

Advanced materials laboratory

Advanced concrete testing and evaluation laboratory

Links

The SERC has professional links with Union and state government departments and several public and private sector organisations. The Ministries of Defence and Road Transport and Highways; the departments of Atomic Energy, Space, and Telecommunications; Tata, MFL, and L&T are examples. It has international collaboration projects. Researchers derive practical experience through studies in the centre.

Programme

The postgraduate research programme focusses on engineering of structures. It trains the candidates through a holistic approach to structural engineering. There is thrust on materials, mechanics, analysis, laboratory experimentation, basic theory, information technology, and engineering design. The course provides in-depth exposure to engineering concepts, scientific principles, research methodology, and hands-on experience on advanced real-life R&D projects in different specialisations of structural engineering.

Candidates completing the programme with distinction will be considered for absorption within the CSIR as regular scientists. The main objective of the programme is to groom young engineering graduates to become research-ready scientists, engineers, and future technology leaders who can take up professional challenges in structural engineering with skill and confidence.