HoustonPBS UH Moment: UH Lab Creating Safer Structures Worldwide

The University of Houston’s Thomas T.C. Hsu Structural Research Laboratory draws scientists and engineers from around the world. Among the lab’s world-leading equipment is the Universal Element Tester.

“This universal panel tester is the only one in this country, and there are only two in the entire world,” said Yi-Lung Mo, director of the lab and professor of civil engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering.

The machine was designed and built by the lab’s founding director Thomas T.C. Hsu in 1988. It is used to subject various building elements, such as bridge girders, to extreme loads, creating the bending, sheer and torque that occurs in natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes.

After an element is subjected to the Universal Element Tester, a computer program is used for finer analysis, allowing researchers to better understand how the entire structure would behave under similar conditions.

“From the test results we are able to understand the element behavior,” said Mo.

By predicting the behavior of a structure, the lab has helped improve the safety and design of everything from offshore oil drilling platforms to high-rise buildings, highway girders and even nuclear containment structures.

According to Mo, the lab has seen an increased interest from scientists around the world following the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, as well as the commitment by the Obama administration and U.S. Department of Energy to pursue more nuclear power generation.

“The Administration and the Energy Department are committed to restarting America’s nuclear industry,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said last month.

According to Mo, that means the work of the lab and it’s Universal Element Tester “is getting even more important.”