A real mover & shaker

Shirley J. Dyke's research sends vibrations across the world in the fields of structural dynamics and control

It’s strictly an observation, but Shirley J. Dyke, Ph.D., associate professor of civil engineering, thinks that structural and dynamics engineers like her sometimes develop an interest in vibrations based on an attraction to music.

“I played numerous instruments when I was younger — guitar, violin, piano — and I think being a musician can make you intrigued about dynamics,” Dyke says. “I’ve found that people with interests in structures and dynamics often have musical backgrounds.

“Vibration is the phenomenon that captivates you.”

Ashley Lucas, a senior in civil engineering, and Diego Giraldo, a graduate student in civil engineering, examine a model bridge with their mentor, Shirley J. Dyke, Ph.D., associate professor of civil engineering.
Ashley Lucas, a senior in civil engineering, and Diego Giraldo, a graduate student in civil engineering, examine a model bridge with their mentor, Shirley J. Dyke, Ph.D., associate professor of civil engineering.

In just seven years, Dyke has sent rippling vibrations throughout her field, university and community with her internationally renowned contributions to a better understanding of structural dynamics, structural control, vibration and earthquake engineering, and with her teaching and outreach activities.

She continually makes innovations that enable buildings and bridges to become “smart” structures — ones that can adapt to physical changes. She is a popular teacher and colleague with involvement in numerous University programs and national and international research initiatives.

For instance, she co-founded and directed REUJAT — Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Japan in Advanced Technology — a program that allows 10 civil engineering undergraduates from universities nationwide to travel to Japan and collaborate on original research projects. REUJAT is an extension of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) domestic Research Experience for Under-graduates (REU) program, in partnership with professors at Florida A&M and Tokyo universities.

This summer, one of Dyke’s graduate students, Diego Giraldo, accompanied Washington University senior Ashley Lucas to Japan, where Lucas worked with Japanese professors, completed a paper and made presentations on her research project.

“This collaboration is very valuable,” says Dyke, who travels to Japan each summer to mentor the REUJAT Washington University undergraduate for two weeks.

“To an engineer, especially one in structural dynamics, Japan is like a toy store. Infrastructure is of vital interest to the Japanese, and there are many structural innovations that American students really need to see. They also experience a unique culture.”

Dyke is director of the Structural Control and Earthquake Engineering Laboratory, located in Urbauer Hall, where researchers seek ways to reduce losses and property damage from earthquakes.

With her colleagues in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, she is involved each summer with undergraduates participating in the NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, where students at Washington University and other institutions benefit from working with faculty mentors on special research projects.

Dyke’s prominence in structural engineering arose from her research on a device called the magnetorheological (MR) damper. In the mid-1990s, she was the first civil engineer to develop ways to use this device for seismic protection.

The MR damper is a device that acts like a shock absorber on a structure. Three horizontal metal plates are sandwiched together on a 6-foot-tall model building in her lab, with the outer two plates connected to one end of the building, the middle one connected to the other end. When a hydraulic system moves the model building (simulating an earthquake), the middle plate slides back and forth between the two outer plates.

An MR fluid coats the middle plate, turning into a solid when a small electrical current is applied from a battery. The electrical current creates a magnetic field, which causes iron particles in the fluid to join together, solidifying the fluid and making the three plates stick together, reducing the shaking.

The whole process happens in fractions of a second, and when the current is removed, the solid turns back to liquid. The process thus dampens the vibration so that it cannot accelerate through and up the floors of a building or structure.

Sensors are attached to the building’s floors to measure the swaying when the shaking occurs. This data are immediately relayed to a computer that calculates where to turn the power on and put the dampers to work to les-sen the shaking.

Early in her research, Dyke found that MR dampers reduce the peak acceleration by an impressive 50 percent.

Today, MR dampers are in place on a bridge in China and in a museum in Tokyo.

Dyke is not finished testing the devices, however. She’s moved on to experiments and analytical studies on torsion (twisting) response and fault tolerance — where a system can function even when the hardware malfunctions.

“We’re trying to make smart buildings,” she says.

She’s collaborating with Japanese researchers on what’s known as structural health monitoring, in which sensors are placed onto a structure and can tell what kind of damage occurred to the structure following a large, dynamic event such as an earthquake. The data gathered by these sensors allows a before-after kind of comparison.

She is conducting similar structural-health monitoring projects as close as Cape Girardeau, Mo., and as far off as Cali, Colombia. There she and her collaborators are using sensors previously installed on a spectacular bridge (one of the landmarks of the country) that provide them with real-time data to do structural-health monitoring on the fly.

One of Dyke’s biggest contributions to her field is her formation and directorship of the University Consortium on Instructional Shake Tables (UCIST), funded by NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education, and headquartered at Washington University.

Begun in 2001 to encourage more formal training in structural dynamics and earthquake hazard mitigation at the undergraduate level, 23 institutions drawn from the three national earthquake centers began cooperating in the purchase of bench-scale, earthquake-simulating “shake tables.”

The equipment is used to integrate earthquake engineering into the undergraduate curriculum. Classroom demonstration and “hands-on” experiments are conducted at all levels to have a significant impact on the entire civil engineering curriculum. The experiments are distributed to interested parties and made available on the UCIST Web site.

Additional consortium opportunities include nationwide student competitions and undergraduate research experiences. UCIST has grown to include nearly 70 institutions in just three years and is considered a model for future nationwide educational efforts.

“We’re really pleased with the growth and development and high-quality projects of the consortium,” Dyke says. “It was formed because we recognized the field of earthquake engineering at the undergraduate level needed a vigorous curriculum to meet the challenges of preventing or lessening earthquake damage to structures.”

Dyke is a true mover and shaker, not only in her field but also in her community.

Shirley J. Dyke

Hometown: Palos Heights, Ill. (southwest suburb of Chicago)

Education: B.S., aerospace engineering, University of Illinois, with honors, 1991; Ph.D., civil engineering, University of Notre Dame, 1996

Courses she teaches: “Probability and Statistics for Civil Engineers” (juniors and seniors); “Advanced Structural Dynamics”; “Experimental Methods in Structural Dynamics” (both graduate-level)

Hobbies: Biking, swimming, reading science fiction

Last year, she participated in “Moving and Shaking … An Introduction to Engineering,” a program coordinated by Univer-sity colleagues Ruth Okamoto, D.Sc., assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering. This learning laboratory, sponsored by the St. Louis Area Gifted Resource Council, is a series of hands-on lab sessions designed to interest middle-schoolers, especially girls, in engineering.

Together with civil engineering department Chair Kevin Z. Truman, Ph.D., Dyke founded the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12). Engineers from diverse departments are represented in this community outreach effort that gives fellowships to 10 engineering graduate students and several undergraduates each year.

These students work with middle-school teachers and students at Gateway Middle School in St. Louis and Steger 6th Grade Center in Webster Groves, Mo., on engineering projects that also involve other science areas.

“I consider Shirley to be at the forefront of young researchers in the world in the field of structural dynamics and control,” says Phillip L. Gould, Ph.D., the Harold D. Jolley Professor in civil engineering. “Her ability to interact with many colleagues, some much her senior, and also many students to address very important problems and to respond to opportunities in the fields of structural control, health monitoring and education are particularly impressive.”

That Dyke is an international star in engineering is all the more remarkable considering she was initially drawn to the veterinarian profession as a high-schooler in Palos Heights, Ill., a southwestern suburb of Chicago. She credits a high school teacher for pointing her toward engineering.

At the University of Illinois, Dyke majored in aerospace engineering because of a longtime love of the space program. Structural control and vibration apply to aerospace equipment as well as buildings and bridges.

She credits Larry Bergman, Ph.D., her academic adviser at Illinois, with getting her in touch with Bill Spencer, Ph.D., who worked in structural control and vibration at the University of Notre Dame. While she intended to pursue only a master’s, she ended up with a doctorate from Notre Dame in 1996 and came to WUSTL shortly after graduation.

She calls Bergman and Spencer her mentors and role models.

“They’ve been wonderful,” she says. “I call on them for advice to this day.

“Washington University has been very supportive. It’s the perfect size and has a great reputation.”