Centrifuge facility to be built in Kuching next year

KUCHING: A new centrifuge facility to be built at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus will enable high-end research in geotechnical engineering to be carried out.

The International Geotechnical Research Centre with Centrifuge Facility, recently announced by Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof, will be established at Swinburne Sarawak next year. The facility will be the largest and most modern in South-East Asia.

Swinburne Sarawak’s Research Centre for Sustainable Technologies director Assoc Prof Dr Dominic Ong said geotechnical engineering was a specialised branch of civil engineering which involved applying soil science and rock mechanics, engineering geology and other related disciplines to civil engineering design and construction.

He said it played a key role in civil engineering projects since all construction was built on or in the ground, and that the use of centrifuge was indispensable in modern geotechnical research.

According to him, the basic idea of geotechnical centrifuge technology involves accelerating a small-size model to high levels such as 100-g (100 times the earth’s gravity) to simulate real-life stress conditions in the actual structure.

“This means that if the centrifuge test is carried out at 100-g level, a 50m-long pile can be modelled using only a 500mm-long model pile in the centrifuge lab to replicate similar pile property and soil stress conditions.

“Various pile group loading scenarios or settlement behaviour can thus be easily tested, repeated and studied in detail,” he explained.

Ong said another example was the study of groundwater seepage or soil consolidation behaviour.

“When using the centrifuge under a simulated 100-g level, the soil sample in the centrifuge model only needs to be spun for 22 hours to replicate a real-life time of 25 years.

“Therefore testing times can be reduced and the condition of the road embankment that is being supported by similar soft soil at the site can be physically studied and observed. So this means we can live in the future to see the possible outcome of construction works.”

Ong also said Swinburne Sarawak had sent two PhD students to be attached at the National University of Singapore (NUS), which operates a smaller geotechnical centrifuge.

The students work on practical but complex projects supported by the Public Works Department’s research centre via a memorandum of understanding signed last year.

“It is very important that we empower our researchers to embrace high-end technology to stay abreast with cutting-edge research so that we can grow technically and subsequently contribute back to the engineering fraternity and community,” Ong said.

The proposed centrifuge facility will be situated within the Swinburne Sarawak campus and will be a flagship research facility for the state and country in view of the potential high-end research and international collaboration that can be nurtured in geotechnical and geological engineering.

Typical research that can be carried out includes seismic assessment on hydropower dam stability, offshore foundation systems, deep excavation, tunnelling, soil structure interaction and ground improvement technology.

The facility will be opened to national and international collaborators working on pressing engineering problems, while the Construction Industry Development Board, Construction Research Institute of Malaysia and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak will be strategic partners.

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