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The University of Tennessee
College of Architecture and Design

UT Institute for Smart Structures


The UT Institute for Smart Structures is a research center where academia and industry meet. A collaboration between the College of Architecture + Design and the College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee (UT) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Institute for Smart Structures will offer research and development in architecture and engineering for the building sector and combines the areas of material science, engineering and architecture to solve immediate problems as well as provide revolutionary concepts for new applications. Architecture and design requires a broad synthesis of knowledge and disciplines: design, construction, sociology, science, and engineering. It is important to build bridges and to recognize that it takes a variety of disciplines and experience to push science forward. This initiative will develop new technologies with a clear architectural view point and therefore provide a fast track for new concepts to be transferred to architectural applications.

An interdisciplinary team of UT and ORNL researchers can fulfill challenging tasks for middle sized and large companies in Tennessee as well as government funding agencies in the research and development field.

Institute for Smart Structures Mission Statement:

Contract Research and Development
Medium sized to large enterprises in particular are starting to realize the advantages of outsourcing demanding R&D tasks to small and unconditioned cells. Not long ago, advocates of traditional ideas within the company were in charge of the innovation section. At least in the initial stages, fresh outsider teams are free of intra-corporate blinders regarding products, technologies, or behavior patterns. The Institute for Smart Structures sees itself as a service Institution, offering its scientific and technical expertise on the market for research and development services.


The Smart Structures Lab wants to:
• Work out innovative concepts and accompany them along the way until a pre-series prototype or a proof of feasibility is established. Time horizons: proof of principle: 3years, prototype: 5 years, pre-series: 10 years
• Be noticed for its degree of innovation and effectiveness.
• Provide by its work useful contributions in terms of comprehensive social and ecological consciousness.

Research of practical utility
The key to business success lies in the ability to develop new ideas and rapidly transform them into marketable products. Accelerating the transfer of information and know-how is thus one of the Institutes chief objectives. Companies of all sizes and in all sectors of industry make use of the institutes as outsourced high-tech laboratories for all kinds of development projects, for specialized services and as skilled consultants on questions of organization and strategy. Professional project management and quality management processes lead to concrete solutions that produce valuable results in practice. The formation of spin-off companies offers a direct route for know-how developed in the research laboratory to be applied in industrial practice. UT and ORNL provide such companies with information and support.

The benefits of contract research
The Institute develops products and processes right up to commercial maturity. Individual solutions are sought in direct contact with the customer. Extensive internal collaboration ensures that the customer can call on the specialized expertise of the entire institute when required. Common quality standards and a professional approach to project management guarantee reliable results.
The highly advanced equipment available in UT’s and ORNL laboratories makes the Institute an attractive partner for companies of all sizes and in all branches of industry. As well as the reliability of a strongly cohesive research network, collaboration also brings economic benefits.

Funding for the Institute for Smart Structures

Many sponsors will find the Institute for Smart Structures to be a uniquely valuable resource for conducting research that is too costly or too "far out" to be accommodated within a corporate environment. The "multiplier" effect of joining a community of sponsors to support advanced research has impressive results. For less than the cost of one senior scientist's salary plus benefits, a sponsor can gain access to the work of a research laboratory.

Structure and Funding Concept

Levels of sponsorship:

Consortium - A consortium connects a group of sponsors with a group of laboratory faculty and research staff focused on a common agenda.
Affiliate sponsorship allows attendance at a consortium's semi-annual research meetings.
Special interest groups offer more focused research agendas.
Graduate fellows provide the sponsor an opportunity to connect with specific students and research groups.
Directed research offers a parallel funding track to accommodate federally sponsored research and large-scale contracts.
Corporate or strategic research partner fund larger agendas at the Laboratory, including fellows programs or special Laboratory facilities.

Research and Academic Overview / Curriculum Integration

The Institute for Smart Structures will provide the platform and umbrella for research in the field of Architecture and Engineering. The Institute will comprise both a degree-granting Program and a research program and will engage in numerous collaborations within UT and ORNL in the form of joint academic appointments, teaching efforts, and research programs.

Background – Collaborative Initiatives since 2007
The Institute for Smart Structures vision of “enabling technology for developing smart structures and materials” emphasizes technologies that improve the quality of architecture and the building envelope in the 21st century with the focus on sustainability, energy, health and safety and economy. The Lab advocates a process that includes imagination and realization, criticism and reflection. The Institute will push the envelope with a range of research that no single industrial partner would be able to duplicate. Faculty in Architecture, Engineering and Material Science have already started initiatives in areas such as DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Nanomanucfacturing initiative, Building Control and Diagnostics and New Materials. In particular in:

Programmable Smart Materials - Performance Materials for Intelligent Building Skin The new possibilities for material developments and the implementation of programmable material properties and adaptive systems into the fields of architecture and civil engineering create the opportunity to reconsider traditional building materials and construction methods. The research focus is on the integration of material, energy and information flow in the building envelope with the goals:

• Compelling different material properties to generate synergy effects
• Energy harvesting
• Flexible and/or stress-strain sensitive surfaces and films
• Energy delivery (Photovoltaic)
• UV absorbent, IR absorbent
• Hydrogen generation/storage with micro-organisms
• Minimizing the infrastructural efforts by limiting the number of components
• Networking of all components and properties
• Faster reaction and more robustly durable components
• Development of the learning ability in control mechanisms

1. Non-Invasive Damage Identification in Structures
The goal of this project is to develop a real-time structural health monitoring system which is specifically tailored and optimized for civil structures such as buildings, bridges and dams.

2. Energy Efficient Shape Control and Change of Flexible Substrates
Active shape control or active vibration damping is a key component to control behavior and environmental influences on temporary housing or other flexible structures such as roll-up photovoltaic cells. Surfaces with piezoelectric thin films can be controlled in shape. Piezoelectric films need special thermal treatments which are not bearable by flexible temperature sensitive substrates. This project develops special photonic high temperature processing of surfaces and thin films on flexible temperature sensitive substrates with no substrate damage.

3. “Plus Energy” architectural surfaces by naturally producing hydrogen using algae
Considering increasing pollution and exploitation of fossil energy resources, new energy concepts are essential to the future industrial society. Hydrogen can be produced from water using electricity, ideally produced from regenerative sources, e.g. wind, solar or water energy. Upon converting back into energy, only water vapor is produced, leading to a closed energy cycle without harmful emissions. This natural effect will be used for “plus energy” artificial surfaces. New fuel cell technology makes it feasible to develop an integrated energy + facade by combining H2 producing green Algae’s and energy producing fuel cells.

4. Adaptive Structural Systems in Structures.
There is a great potential to reduce the weight of structures drastically by introducing active force or stiffness control to them rather than over sizing the structural component for peak load bearing. The economic advantage would be savings in energy and resources and the reduction of operating cost. The goal is to develop strategies for adaptable structures. This new concept can reduce the dead load of the structure drastically or can reduce deformations and damp vibrations caused by different live loads. The new developed adaptable structures will combine a new hybrid structural system for lightweight structures, an active load control and damping system using sensors and actuators, and self-monitoring and self-healing materials.

Contact Us

UT Zero
Art + Architecture Building
1715 Volunteer Boulevard,
Room 457
Knoxville, TN 37996
Edgar Stach
Phone: (865) 974-5211
Fax: (865) 974-0656