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Portland State expertise tapped for China's bridges
Author: Julie Rutherford, Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science
Posted: December 16, 2015

In November, Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Thomas Schumacher was invited to speak at the 4th International Bridge Management and Maintenance Conference hosted by the Regional Institute of Highway, Ministry of Transport for the People’s Republic of China held in Chongqing City.   

A combination of rapid industrialization and pro-growth economic policies has led to an unprecedented infrastructure boom in China. It is estimated that more than 70% of the 700,000 bridges that provide safe crossing over rivers, connect communities and support the country’s bustling transportation and trade activities were constructed in just the past two decades. Many of these bridges have long spans. The dramatic increase in new bridge projects across China ushers in an equally urgent need to properly monitor and maintain them.

To put these figures in perspective, there are around 600,000 bridges in the United States, many of them built after WWII as part of President Eisenhower’s highway expansion program. Federal regulations in the U.S. mandate stringent oversight during construction and biannual inspections once the bridge is in operation.

Schumacher’s research is focused on non-destructive testing and monitoring including acoustic methods, nanotube-based “self-sensing skins,” and video-based approaches. One of four faculty invited from outside of China to participate and present in the conference, including experts from Georgia Tech, New Mexico State University, and an expert bridge engineering firm out of Tallahassee, Florida, he presented his findings to more than 600 civil engineers responsible for ensuring the safety and longevity of China’s bridges.

“The scale of the conference demonstrates the eagerness of Chinese transportation officials to get in front of predictable aging-related issues as well as any unforeseen consequences of the rapid construction,” said Schumacher. “I’m hopeful that this experience will lead to future collaborations with the organizers and other presenters.”

Schumacher is one of six new faculty members recently hired by Portland State’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He returns to Oregon after five years as a faculty member at the University of Delaware. He received his MS and PhD degrees from Oregon State University.

“I’m very excited to join Portland State University,” said Schumacher. “Its Civil Engineering program has grown substantially in the past few years, yet at this time I feel strongly that l will have an opportunity to play a meaningful role in shaping its future direction.”

His vision is to create a focal point at PSU for non-destructive testing and monitoring of civil infrastructure. These represent valuable tools to help agencies with prioritizing maintenance and repair of civil infrastructure. Further, he plans to advance his research into new inspection and monitoring techniques and partner with other PSU faculty to venture into seismic monitoring and assessment before, during, and after a disaster. Such research will help communities prepare where they can, and recover as quickly as possible in the wake of a catastrophic seismic event.

The delegation of civil engineering experts from the U.S. (pictured from left starting at the back row) :
  • Laurence Jacobs, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
  • Thomas Schumacher, PhD, PE, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland State University, USA
  • Yun Yang, Vice Director, Bridge Technology Research Center of the Research Institute of Highway (RIOH), Ministry of Transport, China
  • Ruinian Jiang, Associate Professor, Engineering Technology and Surveying Engineering, New Mexico State University, USA
  • Mohsen Shahawy, PhD, PE, Principal and CEO, SDR Engineering Consultants, Inc., Florida, USA
  • Fuling Zhong, Lecturer, Engineering Technology and Surveying Engineering, New Mexico State University, USA
  • Mei Xue, Assistant Engineer, International Center for Technological Exchange and Cooperation (ICTEC), Research Institute of Highway (RIOH),  Ministry of Transport, China