Iowa City Press-Citizen: UI Facility Helps Navy

Friday, December 3, 2010

It might sound a little odd that a university in a landlocked state like Iowa is helping the U.S. Navy design ships to withstand high seas, but that is just what is happening.

The University of Iowa has worked to enhance naval performance for 60 years, and on Thursday, UI unveiled a new $4.9 million IIHR -- Hydroscience and Engineering Wave Basin Facility that will allow more comprehensive hydrodynamic research.

The question UI researchers hope to tackle with the new facility is, "How do you take an optimal, less detectable shape and make it more stable in a high-seas environment?" said Larry Weber, IIHR director.

"It really opens the door for what we can do," Weber said.

The wave basin is a pool about 65 feet wide by 130 feet long. It is used to test the response of a 10-foot-long radio-controlled model ship that is 1/50th the size of a nearly identical full scale Navy ship. The pool will be able to replicate to scale a 50-foot wave, Weber said.

The primary purpose of the basin is to test and validate computer simulation codes used for testing naval ship designs.

A carriage is suspended over the basin with cameras, and it eventually will have sensors to track the model ship's movements and interaction with the water, Weber said. UI researchers still are calibrating the system, and it is about six months away from testing capabilities, he said

The U.S. has a goal of 48-hour troop deployment to anywhere in the world, but high seas can make that difficult, Weber said. The hope is to create a ship that "not necessarily can go through the center" of the storm but can come pretty close and not capsize, he said.

The project has about $3 million in funding from the U.S. Office in Naval Research.

Two professors, as many as seven full-time researchers, two post-doctoral students and as many as nine graduate students will use the facility, Weber said.

The principle investigator in the project is Fred Stern, a UI professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and director of ship hydrodynamics.

Up to this point, UI had used a basin in the main hydroscience and engineering facility on Riverside Drive. UI had outgrown that facility, and the new, larger facility allows a wider range of testing, Weber said.

Also, research has stalled for up to six months twice in the past 15 years because of flooding, Weber said.

"We are an important cog for the Navy, and all of a sudden Iowa is down for six months. It helped us make a case to the Navy to move out here," Weber said.