An Iconic Wisconsin Landmark Rises Again and Takes Flight: The Eagle Tower Project

The original Eagle Tower, erected in 1932 in Peninsula State Park – Photo Credit: Yinan Chen – Friends of the Peninsula State Park

If you live in Wisconsin, chances are that you at least know of Eagle Tower. More likely, you—along with thousands of visitors from around the world—have had indelible experiences of taking in spectacular views of Lake Michigan, the surrounding islands, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Eagle tower offered a captivating and much beloved panorama of Peninsula State Park.

Built in 1932, the observation tower was a 76-foot timber structure. But in 2015 the tower’s deteriorating state caused the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to have serious concerns about its structural integrity and safety. The Wisconsin DNR asked Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) to assess the structure. “Nondestructive Assessment of Wood Members from a Historic Viewing Tower” is a detailed publication of their findings on Eagle Tower’s condition.

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A New Approach to Bridge Inspection and Safety

Unmanned aerial vehicle – Digital image correlation (UAV-DIC) System

Forest Products Laboratory’s (FPL) researcher James Wacker with collaborators from the Department of Civil Environmental Engineering, South Dakota State University are working on a new approach to inspecting bridges that will allow inspections to one day be more cost-efficient, easier to conduct, more accessible, and safer for motorists and inspectors alike. The journal article, “New Bridge Inspection Approach with Joint UAV and DIC System,” was published in Structures Congress 2020.

Our nation’s bridges have been under an every-two-year mandated inspection for nearly 50 years. The current method of inspecting bridges is accomplished largely by visual assessment often using costly snooper trucks. Wacker describes this approach as “a passive approach that has provided subjective and unreliable data.”

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Salvaging an American Icon with Ground-Penetrating Radar

Two Route 66 signs on the road at California Mojave desert highway – By AR Pictures

Imagine being able to look straight into a wood beam and know its structural integrity.

It’s almost like a super power, except its really just amazing science—science that Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers are practicing in order to be at the forefront of investigative timber safety and restoration.

During a recent study, “Ground-Penetrating Radar Investigation of Salvaged Timber Girders from Bridges Along Route 66 in California,” FPL’s Adam Senalik, James Wacker, and Xiping Wang along with colleagues from Jiangnan University School of IoT Engineering, were able to practice this amazing science on two bridges located on Route 66.

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Research in Progress – Building Safer Balconies

The scene is iconic, Juliet on her balcony calling out into the night, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”, and Romeo calling up from the garden below to his star-crossed love, desperation in his heart. It is a scene that is known nearly all around the world. To many, it is what gives balconies their romantic appeal.

Construction in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo credit: Home Innovation Research Labs)

What a different scene it would have been if Shakespeare was not only a writer but an engineer who understood the difficulties of balcony architecture and construction. Balconies would be viewed with less rosy lenses if Shakespeare, instead of giving Romeo “love’s light wings,” gave him a balcony with moisture-driven rot and the moment he began to climb towards Juliet, the structure unmoored and flattened him under piles of destabilized building materials.

Although it may be lighthearted to imagine Romeo in a different balcony scenario, between 2001 and 2016 there have been approximately 239 balcony and deck collapses in the United States alone. In just two high-profile balcony collapses in Berkeley, CA and Chicago, IL, a total of nineteen fatalities resulted. As buildings age, construction defects become fatal defects.

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Talking to Trees for Better Lumber

“Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe,” stated astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.

And just like everything in nature and the cosmos, trees have a mathematical language too.

A scientist at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) and his colleagues are tapping into the language of trees to produce more reliably classed wood products—from evaluating and grading structural timber to wood-based composite materials (veneer, laminated veneer lumber, and glued laminated timber).

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