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Office of External Communications

Houston, TX 77204-5017 Fax: 713.743.8199

June 4, 2007

Contact: Lisa Merkl
713.743.8192 (office)
713.605.1757 (pager)

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A photo of Thomas Hsu with the two-story, 15-foot, 40-ton “Universal Element Tester” is available on the Web at http://www.uh.edu/media/nr/2007/05may/uni_element_thsuph.html. A high-resolution photo is available by contacting Lisa Merkl.

Thomas Hsu Awarded for Work with One-of-a-Kind Machine for Testing Concrete Panels

HOUSTON, June 4, 2007 – An expert at testing the strength of reinforced concrete under earthquake-like conditions, one University of Houston professor was recently honored for two decades of shaking things up.

Thomas Hsu, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Civil Engineering in the Cullen College of Engineering at UH, was presented with the Arthur J. Boase Award from the American Concrete Institute (ACI) for his achievement in the field of reinforced concrete research. The main tool in Hsu’s earthshaking pursuits has been a piece of equipment dubbed the “Universal Element Tester” (UET). Developed and housed at UH, the UET stands more than 15-feet tall at two stories, weighs nearly 40 tons and contains more than a mile of pipes to transport oil pressure to its 40 jacks. Each jack is capable of applying 100 tons of force to test the strength of element panels of steel-reinforced concrete.

This instrument is distinguished by its unique capability to test large panel elements under varied controlled forces and is the only device in the world capable of performing comprehensive testing of reinforced concrete panel elements. The data from these tests can be integrated by computer techniques to predict the behavior of whole structures constructed from such elements when threatened by real-life destructive forces, such as earthquakes.

All structures can be exposed to four basic actions: axial force, bending, shear and torsion. By controlling individual pairs of jacks, the UET can subject elements made of various concrete materials to all four. The machine is able to perform three-dimensional (3-D) tests, but so far it has only been used in the one-dimensional (1-D) axial force – compression/tension, or pushing in and pulling out – and the two-dimensional
(2-D) actions of bending and of shear – a force similar to the action of a scissor. The fourth type of action is torsion, or twisting, which is a 3-D problem.

“Looking into the future, I chuckle when I tell my students that I’ve figured out pretty well the material laws for 1-D and 2-D actions, and that it’s up to them to figure out the material laws in 3-D,” Hsu said.

Additionally, the UET is the only device in the world able to perform cyclic loading tests on reinforced concrete elements, in which the pressure applied by the jacks changes direction back and forth.

“Cyclic loading is important because it allows us to simulate what structures endure during an earthquake,” Hsu said. “That’s one of the most important research topics in reinforced concrete today.”

Research performed on the UET has resulted in approximately 60 published articles, and Hsu is currently writing his third book, “Unified Theory of Concrete Structures,” that sums up the past 20 years of research performed with the machine. It includes conclusions from 1-D and 2-D stress testing, including cyclic loading tests, as well as theories derived from these tests that predict how reinforced concrete responds to 1-D, 2-D and 3-D stresses.

“We’re pushing a new frontier in structural engineering with this book,” Hsu said. “We’re building a theory that integrates and unifies all four types of actions.”

Hsu’s unified theory will allow engineers to accurately predict the seismic behavior of concrete buildings and bridges and to design concrete structures that are more cost effective and reliable in resisting earthquake hazards. The theory also will pave the way for engineers to predict the behavior of more sophisticated concrete structures, such as buildings with shear walls, nuclear reactor containment vessels and concrete offshore platforms.

Though he has conducted research in multiple areas, Hsu’s focus since 1986 has been on research conducted with the UET. Designed and built by Hsu and his colleagues at a cost of more than $1 million, the UET is housed in the Thomas Hsu Structural Research Laboratory at UH. The award he won from the ACI is the only structures award presented by the ACI’s Concrete Research Council, which also gives a materials award. Many recipients of this structures award are members of the National Academy of Engineering and internationally renowned researchers. Hsu accepted the award this April at the ACI’s annual conference in Atlanta.

A professor at UH for 27 years, Hsu has received many honors. He is a fellow in the ACI and a recipient of its Wason Medal for Noteworthy Research and Arthur R. Anderson Award for Research. He also is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a recipient of its Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize. His UH honors and awards include the Fluor-Daniel Faculty Excellence Award, Abraham E. Dukler Distinguished Engineering Faculty Award, Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship, Senior Faculty Research Award, Halliburton Outstanding Teacher honor and Teaching Excellence Award.

Hsu earned his bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from Harbin Institute of Technology in China and both his master’s and doctoral degrees in structural engineering from Cornell University.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Cullen College of Engineering
UH Cullen College of Engineering has produced five U.S. astronauts, ten members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top ten nationally. With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering. It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications.

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