Virginia Tech lab allows students to learn structural engineering with hands-on approach

Blacksburg, VA

Three months after its dedication, Virginia Tech College of Engineering students at the Ray and Madelyn Curry Education Wing and the Thomas M. Murray Structural Engineering Laboratory are involved in hands-on, in-lab experiments such as investigating the shear strength of lightweight concrete girders.

On a regular basis at the lab, located off Plantation Road near campus, undergraduate and graduate students participate in such lab experiments as testing of a lightweight concrete pre-stressed bridge girder, evaluating steel framed floor systems for vibration response or investigating the behavior of cold-formed steel members. The experiments are held in a vast lab, with the test specimens themselves the size of many normal sized classrooms found elsewhere on campus. The facility officially was renamed and dedicated in October.

“The students get to experience the practical side of structural design, because they typically have to design and construct their own specimens,” said Carin Roberts-Wollmann, an associate professor with the Virginia Tech Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). “They build formwork, tie reinforcing steel and cast concrete. They also learn a tremendous amount about hydraulics, instrumentation and data acquisition. And there is no substitute for the experience of watching the failure mechanisms in their specimens as they destroy what they have created. It is fun and incredibly educational.”

Raymond Curry Jr. is a College of Engineering class of 1954 alum who since has served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, worked for his father’s company, MOSES‐ECCO, a high rise concrete construction company in Washington, D.C., and started two companies on his own, SMC Concrete Construction Inc. and Curry Development Inc. The latter focuses on office buildings, homes, and retail and industrial centers. Curry’s projects are landmarks in the nation’s capital and psyche, including the Watergate Complex and the Library of Congress/National Audio Visual Conservation Center.

As a couple, Ray and his wife, Madelyn, are members of the Ut Prosim Society, and have given several donations to scholarship funds and the renovation of the structural lab, and established the Raymond and Madelyn Curry Graduate Fellowship, among other endeavors.

Murray served as the inaugural Montague-Betts Professor of Structural Steel Design with the Virginia Tech Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering until his retirement in 2008. A specialist in structural steel research and design, Murray was responsible for the construction of large laboratories at the University of Oklahoma and Virginia Tech.

Murray founded the Virginia Tech Structures and Materials Laboratory, where he and his graduate students developed alternate methods for connecting beams and columns in buildings in areas that experience high levels of seismic activity. He was honored with the title of professor emeritus in 2008.

The facility originally opened in January 1990 and has undergone several renovations since then, said Sam Easterling, CEE department head and the university’s Montague-Betts Professor of Structural Steel Design. The latest expansion, for the Ray and Madelyn Curry Educational Wing, was completed in June 2008.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college’s 6,000 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a “hands-on, minds-on” approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.


Steven Mackay

Students and faculty within the Virginia Tech Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering conduct a test of a lightweight concrete pre-stressed bridge girder. This research is investigating the shear strength of lightweight concrete girders. It is overseen by professor Thomas Cousins and associate professor Carin Roberts-Wollmann, the latter who is at far right.