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Press Release for Thursday, September 10, 2015

Professors Awarded NSF Grant to Develop Surface Roughness Rock-Quality Assessment Tool

Media Contact: Joanna Norris, Director
Department of Public Relations
(904) 620-2102

Professors in the School of Engineering at the University of North Florida were awarded a grant for more than $185,000 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop an automated quantifiable textural-based weathering classification system for limestone rock specimens, which will benefit not only Florida but the U.S. economy and society.

With this funding, Drs. Nick Hudyma, UNF professor of civil engineering, and Alan Harris, UNF associate professor of electrical engineering, will work together to develop a surface roughness rock-quality assessment tool that will be used for characterizing weathered limestone for the design of major bridge and building foundations throughout the state. This grant is one of five NSF grants the University has received in the last year.

When tunnels and foundations for buildings and bridges are designed to be supported by weathered rock, it’s important to understand the magnitude in the decrease of strength and stiffness caused by weathering. Weathering, which has a negative effect on the strength and stiffness of rock, is currently assessed using visual descriptions. Previous studies have shown it’s very easy to visually distinguish unweathered and highly weathered rock specimens but intermediate weathering states are often misclassified, leading to inaccurate assessments of rock mass quality.

“This measurement-based assessment system will be more robust than the visual-based system. This will lead to more economical and sustainable designs of infrastructure supported by weathered rock,” said Hudyma. “This research can also be utilized for the assessment of rock joint roughness, which can lead to safer and more economical rock slopes.”

Weathering assessment will be based on 2- and 3-D computer-based algorithms applied to point clouds, a set of 3-D data points, developed through laser scanning and photogrammetry of rock cores. The assessment tool will be based on the same framework as the Geological Strength Index system, which is currently used for rock mass classification.

This research involves UNF undergraduate students in both civil and electrical engineering and will help positively impact engineering education at the undergraduate level.
“This grant is a fantastic opportunity for our undergraduate students to work on an interdisciplinary team, which gives them an opportunity to solve a problem that none of them would be able to work on without the collaborative effort,” said Harris.

The School of Engineering in the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, provides diverse learning opportunities in the technical and professional aspects of engineering that prepare all participants to thrive in an evolving world. It offers undergraduate and graduate programs in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.

UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.