Big teams, big tests

Big teams, big tests

More than 200 researchers enter the “CRIB” to develop and test large-scale infrastructure in real-world conditions
May 29, 2014

Structural engineers are always coming up with novel ways to build infrastructure. It’s what they do best. But when they collaborate with materials engineers, who work at the microstructure level to create more durable building materials, they can literally work wonders.

It’s that type of fruitful collaboration that formed the impetus to create Centre de recherche sur les infrastructures en béton (CRIB), the Research Centre on Concrete Infrastructures. Connecting researchers from universities throughout Quebec, CRIB fosters collaborative efforts by providing a central space where more than 200 researchers — ranging from civil and geological engineers to chemists and life-cycle analysts — can work together to develop new tools to increase the life expectancy of infrastructure, as well as new methods for testing long-term durability.

CRIB houses a large-scale testing facility at Université Laval called the Laboratory on Infrastructure Durability, which contains three separate chambers to simulate real-world environmental conditions, especially the damaging freeze/thaw cycles and salt exposure of a typical Canadian winter.

“If you want to increase the service life of these structures, you have to study large samples,” says CRIB director Marc Jolin, a civil engineering professor at Université Laval. “You can study all the models you want, but at some point, you have to tie it back to something experimental.”

The facility is fully equipped with jacks and an all-purpose press to handle large structures, allowing researchers to observe and monitor materials in a controlled environment. It’s important to be able to test in tangible ways, explains Jolin, so that we can compare models and data collected from existing structures with results from experiments. “You want to know how much load can go on that bridge?” he asks. “Put a sample on the press and test it.”

That pragmatic approach underpins all research at CRIB. It’s a reflection of the multi-faceted nature of most large-scale infrastructure projects, which require a multidisciplinary lens to be successful and a strong connection to industry to satisfy those tangible needs. CRIB collaborates closely with Transports Québec to test and develop new infrastructure evaluation and rehabilitation strategies. In that sense, it’s not only advancing high-quality innovations in infrastructure but also taking the first big step toward sharing them with industry partners.