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Paul Ajegba, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, presents Nabil Grace, dean of the LTU College of Engineering, with a commemorative coin at Friday's ceremony formally naming the Nabil Grace Center for Innovative Materials Research.
LTU photo / Matt Roush

SOUTHFIELD—Dozens of colleagues, family members, industry partners, and governmental officials gathered Friday morning on the campus of Lawrence Technological University to see a world-leading infrastructure laboratory named after the university’s engineering dean, a prolific researcher in improving the lifespan of bridges and other crucial structures.

After the unveiling, it is now the Nabil Grace Center for Innovative Materials Research in the southeast corner of LTU’s campus.

This unique center has been developed and overseen by Grace, dean of the LTU College of Engineering, who was instrumental in its construction and operation, and who has spent a lifetime researching advanced construction materials.

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Nabil Grace, dean of the LTU College of Engineering, speaks to the audience at Friday's dedication.LTU photo / Matt Roush

“The Innovative Materials Research Center here at LTU is one of this nation’s, and the world’s, largest and most comprehensive infrastructure laboratories,” said LTU Board of Trustees Chair Douglas Ebert at the ceremony. “The prolific research that Dr. Grace leads here is resulting in massive improvements in the durability, life, safety, and ultimately the cost of transportation-related infrastructure, particularly highway bridges. He’s received dozens of federal, state, and private research grants and contracts totaling nearly $28 million. And along the way his work has attracted new industry and pathways to opportunity and success right here in Michigan.”

Ebert continued: “We see this center as a fitting and permanent tribute to an inspired teacher, researcher, innovator, and technology leader.”

LTU President Virinder Moudgil noted that “It is rare indeed that a person who is still active as a faculty member, researcher, and administrator … has a building named after him. This speaks a volume of the credentials and contributions and the person he is, a good citizen of the university, of the community, a person who has personally contributed to the economic growth of the region, who is right in front of the infrastructure that is being discussed nationally and locally.”

And Paul Ajegba, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, presented Grace with an MDOT commemorative coin reading “State of Michigan, Symbol of Excellence” on its face with an inscription on the reverse side that says “Leadership, Teamwork, Excellence.” Ajegba said Grace “is not only a great scientist, he is a great person. If you get to know him personally, you find out that he is so accommodating, and willing to listen and help, and has great ideas.” He said the MDOT has been collaborating with LTU on using carbon fiber reinforced polymer in prestressed concrete bridge beams since 2006. The aim is bridges that last a century with minimal maintenance. He said the technology “is spreading like wildfire all over the country.”

Robin Daniels, a regional representative of U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., also presented Grace and LTU with a commemorative certificate memorializing the event.

In accepting the honor, Grace called the CIMR “my second home.” He thanked his family, saying “for sure they have been patient with me, because the amount of work and the time I spend here away from home, weekdays, weekends, and sometimes, weeks.” He also thanked LTU administration, the Board of Trustees, his students, industry partners such as Tokyo Rope Co., the city of Southfield, past and president Michigan governors, and the MDOT, adding that one of his favorite sayings is that “the best engineers we have in Michigan are in Lansing,” working for the transportation agency. He recalled how he traveled with Southfield city officials to Japan in the early 2000s to learn about carbon fiber materials, leading to the first bridge in the United States with no steel, and the establishment of a Tokyo Rope carbon fiber factory in Canton Township.

Grace did his undergraduate work at the University of Cairo in Egypt and earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Windsor. He joined the Lawrence Tech faculty in 1988, and was chair of the Department of Civil Engineering before being named dean of the College of Engineering in 2012. He has received numerous industry awards and holds four United States patents. He is also the author or co-author of more than 150 research papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and is a Fellow of the Engineering Society of Detroit.

Completed in 2008, LTU’s CIMR is a 7,200-square-foot research facility with a 30-foot interior height. It has a 25-ton crane to accommodate testing of structural components up to 100 feet long under various types of loads up to one million pounds. It also features a large-scale fire chamber with dynamic and static loading capabilities that can test structural components in temperatures up to 2,400°F, conditions like those of the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attack—the event that inspired the Grace CIMR’s construction.

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LTU President Virinder Moudgil, Nabil Grace, dean of the LTU College of Engineering, and Doug Ebert, chair of the LTU Board of Trustees, unveil the new sign at the entrance of the Nabil Grace Center for Innovative Materials Research. LTU photo / Matt Roush

CIMR also houses an environmental chamber spacious enough for a large vehicle, which can simulate harsh weather conditions such as high wind, freezing rain, sub-zero temperatures of minus 80°F, or dry heat up to 180°F. Also in the CIMR are small environmental chambers that measure the performance of materials when subjected to pulling, twisting and repeated loads, and a chamber that can subject materials to a variety of forces at temperatures ranging from minus 80°F to 600°F.

Said Ebert of the Nabil Grace CIMR: “These facilities are all being used for conducting hundreds of tests aimed at determining the life, durability, and performance of new materials. And of course the work Dr. Grace has led here on composites for bridges is expected to double their lifespan and virtually eliminates potential corrosion caused by salt and other chemicals. Just as important to the educational process at this university, the testing here has provided hundreds of Lawrence Tech students—from the bachelor’s to doctoral level—with hands-on, real-world experiences that prepare them for outstanding careers.”

Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best in the Midwest. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.