$800,000 awarded to study shear connectors in composite steel bridges

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Gary Prinz

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program awarded Gary Prinz, an associate professor of civil engineering at the U of A, $800,000 to study the design of shear stud connectors in composite steel bridges.

Stud shear connectors are used to provide shear transfer between the concrete deck slabs and the steel girders. They are usually welded to the top of the steel beam.

The goal of the four-year grant is to determine how loads are transferred from concrete to steel via shear stress connectors. It will be of particular interest to examine the strength and fatigue limits of connectors in hopes of aiding in more efficient design. More efficiently designed bridges generally mean cheaper bridges – or more bridges for the dollar.

“We generally assume that all the load passes through this small stud and that no other forces are transferred by friction or adhesion between the concrete and the steel,” Prinz said. “So in our project, we’re tasked with determining precisely how different loads interact and quantifying the different load paths that can occur.”

Much of the work will be done at the Grady E. Harvell Center for Civil Engineering Research and Education, of which Prinz is the director. It will build 60-foot-long bridge sections for full-scale fatigue testing. In all, he plans to do five full-scale tests and many smaller component-level tests.

“The measurement problem we’re facing here,” Prinz explained, “is trying to understand the load going through something that’s embedded in concrete. And the complicated part is that the loads we’re trying to measure are perpendicular to the direction of the studs – so we’re trying to measure shear transfer in a member that’s embedded in concrete, and that’s not an easy thing to TO DO.

The project will also take Prinz and his team to bridges under construction. Before the slabs are poured, measuring devices will be placed inside them in hopes of capturing what happens during construction and under controlled traffic loads. Small-scale testing of the measurement components will also be performed on-site at the Harvell Center.

Prinz noted that this will also be a great opportunity for PhD student Callie Clark, who will be doing her PhD. work with Prinz on the project, which will involve welding, pouring concrete, designing test fixtures of measurement components, creating load programs and performing tests.

Ultimately, Prinz believes that if the terms of the grant are met, it will likely contribute to federal design standards for bridges, with potential consequences for the design of every composite steel bridge in the future.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas’ flagship institution, the U of A offers an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to the Arkansas economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and employment development, discovery through research and creative activity while providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation ranks the U of A among the few American colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. US News and World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. Learn how the U of A is working to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.

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