The structures group

Introduction

The Structures Group had the good fortune of having the founding chair, Professor Noel Murray, to lead it. His vision included the best possible facilities for heavy structural static and dynamic testing, the centrepiece being the 39m x 13m strong-floor on which large structures could  be tested. The culture of discovery of structural behaviour or verification of theory through testing persists to this day and it maintains the depth and credibility of the research of the Group. The value of this culture in the teaching program  in giving students access to the facilities for laboratory classes and research projects cannot be overestimated.

Beginnings

By 1966, academic numbers in the Structures Group had reached eight. - Noel Murray, working on plastic theory and stability, Ken Atkins (later Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of South Australia) who specialised in shock waves and teaching first year, Harvey Dickson teaching  stress analysis and surveying, Paul Grundy and Alan Holgate specialising in structural analysis and design, Reg McPherson and Peter Thomson (both later to be foundation members of the Department of Materials Engineering), and George Rozvany (later Professor,  Technical University of Essen) pursuing optimisation. [Today, the Structures Group is similar in size to those days, but student numbers have increased tenfold.]

A pivotal event - which shaped the direction of the Group - was the collapse of Westgate Bridge on 15th October 1970. Noel Murray and Paul Grundy visited the site the next day and went on to test large pieces of the deck on the strong-floor. Noel gave extensive testimony  to the Royal Commission and his subsequent research of box girders expanded to include the crashworthiness and structural integrity of vehicles, culminating in his book on the subject. This established the strand of research in thin walled structures which is one of the internationally recognised  strengths of the group today.

Staff changes (1970 - )

Staff appointed in the 1970s further enriched the work of the Structures Group. These included Peter Darvall in concrete structures (later Vice Chancellor, Monash), Rob Melchers (now Professor, University of Newcastle), Raph Grzebieta in crashworthiness, Norm  Sneath (bringing vast experience from the Department of Housing and Construction), Mario Attard in concrete and thin walled structures (now at University of NSW). More recently Riadh Al-Mahaidi in concrete structures and Geoff Taplin (now at Maunsell)  added their strengths, the latter particularly in teaching first year classes. Alan Holgate, Geoff Taplin and Paul Grundy still maintain a strong interest in industrial heritage, the former two producing a significant study of Sir John Monash's innovative bridges.

The merger with Caulfield in 1994 added to the group strength, notably with Bob Milner in wooden structures and Bill Wong in steel structures.

Finally, one of our most recent arrivals, Xiao-Ling Zhao, specialises in tubular and thin walled structures (and now holds the chair of Structural Engineering).

Links to Industry

The Group developed strong links with industry. Through Paul Grundy it established the national group ACADS ( the Association for Computer Aided Design) in 1972. For 25 years ACADS helped professionals get up to steam on computing and set standards for software.

Paul developed expertise in fatigue assessment to deal with the many practical problems from industry in cranes, bridges and offshore structures, with particular links with Victorian Railways and its successors and VicRoads. Raph Grzebieta developed strong links with manufacturers of road  vehicles and road furniture and the Monash University Accident Research Centre. Riadh Al-Mahaidi, Geoff Taplin and Jay Sanjayan developed strong links with VicRoads, the concrete and the FRP industries.

There were also significant developments in teaching. The introduction of MEngSc (coursework) in the seventies fulfilled a need for continuing and higher education for about fifteen years while the profession could afford to let their staff attend. The  culture has changed again, requiring smaller bite-sized courses and specialist workshops, many of which the Group now provides.

Teaching Innovations

Teaching undergraduates has also changed significantly in the past decade, demanding extra effort from the group. The emphasis is on problem-based learning, with more didactic methods where appropriate. This approach upholds the values of one-on-one engagement between students and staff,  and of cooperative endeavour which characterises engineering practice. This adds to the challenge already present with fewer staff teaching more students.

For more than forty years the Group has functioned in harmony, which means productivity. Much stems from the example of Noel Murray, followed by others, of keeping in touch with all staff, of letting staff following their aspirations, of keeping an informal watchful eye on performance in  both teaching and research, and of maintaining social interaction.

An offshore engineering program in collaboration with the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the 1980s, focussing on the oil and gas industry. From 1992 to 2000 the department was a partner in the Australian Maritime Engineering Cooperative Research Centre, with BHP Transport  the principal industry partner. This expanded the scope of the offshore engineering to include ship structures, particularly bulk carriers.