By Elizabeth Murphy

Carleton University’s Brandon Robinson, a Master of Applied Science student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won second place at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Science, Action! video contest. Robinson is the first Carleton student to win a top-three spot in the competition.

Contest submissions were limited to 60 seconds and highlighted NSERC-funded research projects or initiatives. Robinson’s winning video summarized his fascinating work on the interaction of flexible structures and airflow – such as the swaying of the CN Tower in high winds. Robinson was inspired to pursue the field of civil engineering by the towering skylines of cities like Toronto and impressive structures such as long-span bridges.

“I had a blast pulling together all of the artwork and animations for my video and challenging myself to frame years’ worth of technical research into a digestible one-minute video aimed at an audience of all ages,” he said. “So much of the work we do is very mathematical ‘left-brained thinking,’ so it was refreshing to get the chance to workout my ‘right brain’ and take a more artistic approach to explaining my topic.

“To have come out of the contest placing as high as I did while competing against so many other well-produced videos describing their interesting research projects is an honour to say the least.”

Using wind tunnel tests on a wing, performed at the Royal Military College, Robinson’s research analyses the interaction of the air and structure. He developed a computer model that mimics the motion of the wing as seen in experiments, while sensors installed on the wing give measurements of the wing’s motion during an experiment.  Robinson’s research group, supervised by Prof. Abhijit Sarkar at Carleton, Prof. Dominique Poirel (Royal Military College of Canada) and Prof. Chris Pettit (United States Naval Academy), in collaboration with Mohammad Khalil (Sandia National Laboratories), focuses on state-of-the-art algorithms for blending real data with physics-based computer models.  This multi-faceted approach can lead to better safety and operational decisions regarding structures that interact with strong winds, and can be extrapolated to broader applications elsewhere in science and engineering.

Through his innovative project, Robinson has had the opportunity to collaborate with many different research teams.

“Integral to my work is the international and interdisciplinary collaborations that our group at Carleton has with researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, the U.S. Naval Academy and the Royal Military College of Canada, whose involvement really provides a broader perspective, which goes a long way in helping us to shape the trajectory of our research.”

Robinson’s clip emerged as a finalist among the initial top 75 entries from post-secondary graduate and undergraduate students in Canada. The 25 Science, Action! videos with the most views on NSERC’s YouTube channel as of March 2 proceeded to a judges’ panel, which selected the final 15 and top three winners. Robinson’s second-place finish earned him a $3,000 prize.

“In a short and to-the-point video like this, there’s so much that you don’t get the opportunity to mention, and so many important contributors that you don’t really have the time to acknowledge,” said Robinson.

“The financial support from NSERC obviously plays a huge role in allowing me to do the kind of research that I do. The Science, Action! contest really highlights how that rings true for so many vastly different research projects from all corners of science and engineering across Canada.”

Robinson’s winning video can be found here:

Thursday, May 3, 2018 in
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