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UA prof gets grant to study river flow

Citizen Staff Writer



A University of Arizona assistant professor has been awarded a five-year grant to study the way rivers are shaped and why.

Jennifer Duan, an assistant professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, was awarded $415,560 by the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program last fall.

She hopes her research will provide scientists with the tools needed for river restoration and flood control. Also, by knowing how rivers meander, civil engineers can design better bridges over rivers and riverbeds such as the Rillito.

To do so, Duan plans to create her own artificial river as a curvy structure rather than the pre-existing straight prototypes. Experimental data has not been recorded on artificial winding river channels, she said.

“When you take an airplane you see all the rivers are curved,” Duan said. “This is a natural law. They cannot stay straight.”

An artificial meandering river will be built in the Civil Engineering building’s courtyard so students and faculty can study this phenomenon.

The speed of the river’s flow will be able to be altered to simulate annual fluctuations.

Most rivers have a constant speed at which they flow, but in Arizona many of the rivers are either dried up or hardly move, so Duan is using this artificial waterway to simulate a flowing river.

“As engineers, we design bridges for design discharge, design flow. Design flow is going to be full,” Duan said.

The mock river will be 50 feet long, 14 feet wide and 3 feet deep.

It is limited to these dimensions because of the space in the courtyard of the Civil Engineering building at 1209 E. Second St., near the Student Union. The public is welcome to check it out.

Graduate and undergraduate students will help Duan measure sedimentary deposits and erosion of the outer edges of the artificial river, using sensors and computers.

Construction is set to begin in March and the project should be operational by May 1.

Pete Brown, editor of the College of Engineering’s “Arizona Engineer” publication, said Duan received the grant because no theory encompassed interactions between flow, sediment transportation and fluid dynamics.

The grant is given to junior faculty “who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research,” according to the NSF Web site.

“I think it’s the idea of linking her measurements to computer models, which no one else in her field has done, ” said civil engineering and mechanical engineering department head Kevin Lansey.

In addition to her research, Duan will run a weeklong summer camp for about 20 high school students. She is trying to get women interested in the field of civil engineering because only 25 percent of the department’s students are women. Duan said the camp will not be available until 2011, so her research can be in full swing.

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