Notes from the Lab


PLASTICS IN BEAMS AND RAILROAD TIES

MIT rearchers led by Professor Oral Buyukozturk of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering are exploring how new materials like composite plastics can be used in a number of structures from beams to railroad ties.

In one project, they are studying how plastic composites can be applied to strengthen damaged regions of structural elements such as beams and columns. If such a structure becomes damaged or cracked, such as what happened when a truck crashed into a vital highway bridge in Boston last year, perhaps the innovative materials could be applied for a quick fix. A new NSF project in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Laboratories (EMPA) is studying how to develop reliable utilization and application techniques for these materials.

Another project with the American Association of Railroads is looking at the use of plastic composites to build more durable railroad ties. "If we build concrete ties in conjunction with plastic composites, we can develop much better performing ties with twice as long a design life. Also, the plastic composite ties are easier to repair than wooden ties, since the composites are lighter to carry and fairly easy to apply on the site," Dr. Buyukozturk said. "We're also looking at how to strengthen aluminum boxcars with composites to reduce weight and costs."

--Debbie Levey, Civil and Environmental Engineering

WEB WRAPPING SERVICES

One of Professor Stuart Madnick's latest efforts to improve the usefulness of the World Wide Web is a feature called Web Wrapping Services. It addresses the fact that the Web is a very human-intensive environment--for instance, if you want to find ski areas with more than five feet of snow, you have to click and click and read and read, when all you really want is an answer to your specific question.

Using Web Wrapping Services, Madnick and his team from the Sloan School of Management have devised a way to overcome that problem. Once the format of a given Web site has been registered with the system, Web Wrapping Services automatically superimposes a database-like front end so a user can query all registered Web sites.

By allowing users to treat text on a Web page like a database, and by allowing them to do that for hundreds or thousands of Web pages, Web Wrapping Services could help them create relatively large and extremely useful distributed databases. The fundamental work is funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA); experiments testing the technology are funded by TASC/PRIMARK, TRW and Merrill Lynch. (Source: MIT Transportation newsletter).

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 5, 1997.


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