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Engineering team wins honor, advances to National GeoWall Competition

Fri, 02/21/2014

LAWRENCE — A team from the University of Kansas School of Engineering is among 16 finalists participating later this month in a national competition that could lead to sustainable and innovative design of retaining walls around the world.

Xiaohui Sun, of Nanjing, China, who is pursuing his doctorate focused on geotechnical engineering; Madan Neupane, of Lalitpur, Nepal, a master’s student focused on geotechnical engineering; and civil engineering undergraduate students Zack Brady, Overbrook, and Lee Crippen, Olathe, will compete in the GeoWall competition, sponsored by the Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which will be Feb. 23-26 in Atlanta. Jie Han, professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, serves as the faculty adviser.

At the competition, teams are challenged to race the clock to find the best way to build a system to maximize the stability of a small-scale retaining wall made of poster board. Teams have already submitted their designs for the competition, and KU earned second place and a $2,000 stipend to cover the team’s costs of traveling to the competition.

“We’re practicing a lot because we’ll be on a tight timeline during the competition, and we want to be prepared,” said Sun, team captain. “Things are going well, but we know we’ll have to be at the top of our game at the competition.”

Here’s how the competition works: Each team has a 26-inch by 18-inch by 18-inch wooden box with one removable side. Teams are timed while they cut Kraft paper strips, construct a poster board wall, insert the reinforcing paper strips and place the wall inside the wooden box. As a mixture of sand and granular rubber pellets recycled from waste tires is poured into the box, teams compact it and arrange the paper strips in layers. Once the box is full, the removable wooden side is taken away, leaving the poster board to serve as one wall of the box.

KU finished second in the 2013 GeoWall competition, but Sun said there’s one key difference from last year, a change in the material that fills the box. 

“The rubber pellets are very light and deformable and cause the contents of the box to shift significantly. It’s very challenging and our biggest concern is how to manage that,” Sun said.

The team continues to experiment with the best methods to fortify the wall, and ensure precision in the cutting and placement of their paper strips. Sun is confident the team is on the right path.

“I’m really hoping to go further than last year and walk away with the championship this year. Based on our design finishing in the top three, it’s clear we’re off to a great start,” Sun said. 



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