Engineering Students Dive into Field Work
Expect the unexpected — and remember the duct tape. Those were big lessons for ten UW–Madison students who learned to use coastal engineering instruments in the field last summer. The course was taught by Civil and Environmental Engineering Professors Chin Wu and Dante Fratta and by Geology Professor David Mickelson.
UW Sea Grant Coastal Engineering Specialist Gene Clark provided logistical support and real-world perspectives. The students started in the UW Engineering Lab and then moved out to Lake Mendota and ultimately to the Great Lakes. Clark arranged for the class to use the research vessels L.L. Smith, out of Duluth-Superior, and Neeskay, out of Milwaukee. Aboard the vessels, Clark described issues associated with aging infrastructure in the Duluth-Superior harbor, dredging methods in the Milwaukee Harbor, and bluff and lake bottom erosion along Lake Michigan’s west coast. UW Sea Grant supported the ship time.
From ship and shore, the students deployed specialized instruments to measure wave height, current strength and direction, sub-bottom structure, and other coastal parameters. They also designed and built support equipment to adapt the instruments to Great Lakes applications. On the shores of Lake Superior, the students dealt with winds over 40 miles per hour.
“They soon realized that collecting measurements in the field can be totally different from merely studying instruments in the lab,” Clark said.
Wu said the students’ progress was clear.
“In the beginning, they were using duct tape a lot,” he said. “At the end, not at all.”