New Purdue Lab Aims to Aid Nation’s Aging Infrastructure

By: Contributor Last Updated: October 27, 2009

Purdue University is operating a new laboratory to help the nation deal with aging highways, bridges and other infrastructure by developing more durable and environmentally friendly concrete.

The research at the Charles Pankow Concrete Materials Laboratory will focus on reducing cracks in concrete and corrosion of steel rods in reinforced concrete, said Jason Weiss, director of the new Pankow Laboratory.

"A civil engineer who graduates today is being asked, more than ever, to build a long-lasting, durable structure on tighter and tighter budgets," he said. "The Pankow Lab will be instrumental in finding critical solutions, while also providing crucial training for students."

The lab was created and equipped with $2 million from a $4.7 million donation from the family of alumnus Charles Pankow, who died in 2004.

The new lab enables engineers to test large concrete specimens in a special environmental chamber that simulates extreme temperatures and humidity.

Researchers also will use the lab to study new types of more environmentally friendly concrete. The work aims to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide generated by using green "binders" needed to make concrete.

"Thanks to the generosity of the Pankow family, these studies may now take place in a world-class laboratory," said M. Katherine Banks, professor and Bowen Engineering Head of the School of Civil Engineering.

The lab was dedicated Oct. 2.

"The lab is particularly innovative because we can test a wide range of specimen sizes and we can finely control conditions inside the environmental chamber, which are both critical for generating accurate data," Weiss said.

Charles Pankow, who earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1947, received an honorary doctorate from Purdue in 1983. He had founded a construction company, Charles Pankow Builders Inc., working out of the garage of his Altadena, Calif., home in 1963.

The company builds commercial office buildings, multifamily homes, mixed-use developments, hotels, hospitals and parking structures.