CEE senior continues award-winning research in graduate school

Two months before graduating with a degree in civil engineering Mason Hickman earned two awards at the 2013 Southeastern Section Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education for his research on portable structures capable of withstanding blasts from explosives.

Mason Hickman
Mason Hickman

Hickman, from Bountiful, Utah, participated in the annual ASEE student poster competition in March, capturing the best overall student poster award, and a first place award in the undergraduate research-individual category with his poster – Blast and Impact Effect Analysis of Cementitious Armor Panels.

Tennessee Tech was host of the three-day conference, attended by more than 140 registrants from 42 schools and organizations. The poster competition attracted 52 students and included 31 posters.

Hickman now is pursuing a doctoral degree in civil engineering at Vanderbilt focused on structural mechanics and materials. He worked on the project this summer and continues the research this semester.

The findings represented in the poster are based on an ongoing project supported by Engineering Research and Development Center of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a low-cost, portable structural system that can withstand impacts from projectiles and blasts caused by explosives.

“The effects of projectile impact velocity and explosive proximity on ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC) panels were analyzed through implementation of a novel material model currently under development by our research group,” Hickman said. “The proposed material model, recently published in the Journal of Computational Materials Science, characterizes the strength of ceramic materials subject to high-rate loading.”

Significant advancements in experimental characterization of complex materials, in simulation techniques, and the computational speed of computers allow more accurate study of the effects of structures subjected to blasts and high-velocity impacts, while drastically reducing research and development costs related to new materials, according to the authors of the journal article.

Extensive experimental solutions to the problem are not realistic because it can be very expensive and time consuming.  Using reliable simulations to predict a material’s behavior corresponding to a myriad of possibilities is the sensible alternative, the authors state.

Hickman’s faculty adviser is P.K. Basu, professor of civil and environmental engineering, whose research focuses on computational mechanics related to multiple industries, and inspection, evaluation and management of civil infrastructure systems.