Monday, October 14, 2013

URSP Student Thomas Barham Researches the Engineering Mechanics of Grain Silo Suffocation Accidents

This semester I am researching grain entrapment's across America. In doing so, I hope to apply my previous and growing knowledge of soil mechanics to quantify the properties of grain involved in entrapment cases. With an over aching goal of somehow changing the design or storage practice of how we store grains in silos.

I became aware of this topic thanks to an excellent series produced by NPR in the beginning of the year. Then much to my surprise, I was approached to study the topic by my Geo-tech professor. From there we hit the ground running. I have been spending my weeks within the research program differently according to a per-determined schedule. For instance, the first three weeks was all research. We wanted to determine the characteristics and conditions of grain involved in entrapment cases so we could understand specifically what we wanted to look at and what required further research. At the end of each week I spend an hour or more discussing my findings with my mentor as well as discussing the topics and further research for next week.

As we enter the fifth week of research our goals have evolved along with my weekly tasks. Now that we have an idea of what type/condition of grain and entrapment we want to focus on, I am now looking at the specific tests we are going to be running, how they are performed, and the sources of error. For instance, this week with the help of my mentor I learned how to set up the direct shear apparatus, which we will be using to determine the shearing properties of grains. As most of our tests are designed for soils, we will face very specific challenges in modifying the tests with the correct perimeters as we apply the testing procedure to grains.