UF is looking to bring itself to the forefront of wind hazard and hurricane research with a newly constructed fan bank.
The fan bank, located in the Powell Family Structures and Materials Laboratory, consists of 319 individually controlled fans that can simulate a variety of wind conditions, such as those occurring from severe storms and tornadoes, said Kurtis Gurley, associate director of UF’s Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment.
A majority of the funding for the project came from a Major Research Instrumentation Program grant just under $1 million. It was awarded to the university by the National Science Foundation, Gurley said.
Many of the parts used to construct the fans were produced at UF using the Powell Lab’s machin
e shop and 3D printers. Gurley said the project is the culmination of about four years worth of work.
The fans work in conjunction with another portion of the wind tunnel called the terraformer, which can be manipulated to mimic trees and structures like houses and buildings that wind would pass through in actual weather conditions, Gurley said.
“Wind hazard is an important aspect of community resilience in Florida and other coastal areas,” he said. “Having a laboratory where we’re able to study how the infrastructure of buildings feels the load is an important first step in learning how to design systems to resist them.”
The terraformer is made up of 1,100 individually controlled blocks that can be raised and lowered from the floor of the tunnel, he said.
The wind tunnel is a shared-use facility due to the funding from the National Science Foundation, Gurley said. This means researchers from all over the country can use the facility for their own experiments for free.
While the UF faculty doing wind research has “great” ideas, Gurley welcomes use by researchers outside of the university to further study the field.
“There are other people who have really good ideas, and they need a place to test them out,” he said. “That’s what our facility is.”
One of the unique features of the terraformer is that it can be reset in 90 seconds, while it can take other labs days to do the same thing, said Scott Powell, the lab manager.
Powell said the lab is continuing to develop “exciting” scenarios that have never been tested before.
“It’s major for the university to be able to study wind in this setting,” Powell said. “With the scale of this model, we are able to test the equivalent of hurricane-force winds.”