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MDOT designates research center of excellence at Lawrence Tech

Release Date: April 22, 2008

Southfield, Mich. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has awarded the Civil Engineering Department at Lawrence Technological University the designation as a Center of Excellence for Sustainable Infrastructure & Structural Testing that can improve the structural integrity and longevity of concrete bridges. This MDOT Center of Excellence will be located in the Center for Innovative Materials Research (CIMR).

MDOT engineers will ask Lawrence Tech to participate in the development and research of new ways to increase the longevity of bridges and decrease maintenance costs, according to MDOT Director Kirk T. Steudle.

“Research is happening right here in Michigan at Lawrence Technological University that isn’t happening anywhere else in the country. Lawrence Tech’s Center for Innovative Materials Research is doing research on carbon reinforcement and testing that ultimately will result in bridge structures that will last longer than ever before. We are proud to partner with Lawrence Tech as the CIMR develops innovative technologies that will benefit current and future generations by improving the nation’s infrastructure,” Steudle said.

For more than a decade, Nabil Grace, chairman of the Civil Engineering Department at Lawrence Tech, has conducted research on using noncorrosive carbon, glass and aramid fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP, GFRP, AFRP) and other advanced composites to replace steel reinforcement bars in bridge construction.

Bridges become faulty because chemicals and water cause steel to rust and undermine the structural integrity of the surrounding concrete. Composites are more expensive than the steel used to reinforce bridges, but eliminating corrosion reduces maintenance costs and can double the longevity of bridges, according to Grace.

“The designation as a Center of Excellence by MDOT will help us continue this important research. It not only provides a tremendous opportunity to develop the next generation of bridges, but also the next generation of engineers,” Grace said.

The first test bridge in the country using CFRP materials was built for the city of Southfield in 2001, and Southfield plans to use CFRP reinforcements instead of steel on the Beech Road bridge scheduled for construction next year.

In 2010, the Metro Region Office of MDOT will use CFRP composites during reconstruction of three bridges across the Southfield Freeway.

Lawrence Tech’s CIMR is a unique research facility that offers four ways to test materials used to reinforce concrete for bridges:

  • Bridge components up to 100 feet long can be tested for stress under both static and repeated loads up to a million pounds of force.
  • An environmental/loading chamber to be built this year will measure the impact of both repeated and static loads in simulated climatic conditions ranging from Antarctica to equatorial South America.
  • A fire/loading chamber installed in 2007 can test structural components up to 2300 degrees Fahrenheit and approximate conditions at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Nanotechnology testing equipment can measure such things as the tensile strength of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in reinforced concrete.

Calvin Roberts, MDOT’s engineer of research and best practices, said the next step is to define the work to be done at the new Center of Excellence for Sustainable Infrastructure & Structural Testing.

“MDOT anticipates that this new center of excellence will offer many opportunities to assist us in achieving our strategic initiatives in the years to come,” Roberts said.


Lawrence Technological University,, offers more than 60 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes 75 years ago, and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech’s 102-acre campus is in Southfield, with education centers in Lansing, Livonia, Clinton Township, Traverse City and Petoskey. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.