Laboratory experiments for dissertations and projects

Farrell, Peter, Sheratt, Fred and Richardson, Alan (2016) Laboratory experiments for dissertations and projects. In: Writing Built Environment Dissertations and Projects: Practical Guidance and Examples, 2nd edition. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 140-164. ISBN 9781118921920

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This Chapter on laboratory based investigations is aimed at Built Environment and civil engineering students who will develop their study skills, and look at areas associated with their interests. Civil engineering students would be expected to cope with mathematical analysis and design processes with relative ease whilst gaining the opportunity to extend their management skills associated with project planning, organising people and dealing with health and safety issues. The Built Environment students should have the management skills to permit a full investigation and they will benefit from the opportunity of expanding their numerical and analytical skills. A dissertation defines your degree and an interest in a technical area such as sustainable materials makes undergraduates very employable when they demonstrate an interest and ability in this area.

In essence, laboratory based dissertations and softer management style investigations are very similar, in that, it is the logical process that is being examined. The skill sets required for an empirical based quantitative project is fundamentally no different to that of qualitative project. From the author’s experience, the easier of the two forms of analysis is quantitative research. The student should consider what it says on the title of their programme of study. If you are studying a BSc then surely; should there not be some science in the dissertation? A BSc in Construction Management need not necessarily be completely science or technology based, however if it is not, then the softer management style of investigation should at least be analysed with a reasonable degree of mathematical rigour to achieve a satisfactory pass grade. When a student embarks upon a BEng, the need for carrying out a technical investigation is much greater. The term project for a BEng and dissertation for a BSc can be interchanged reasonably easily as the final product will be much the same.

An extract from a final year civil engineering project module descriptor sums up what is required of a BEng student.
‘The individual project provides a vehicle for the student to undertake a substantive piece of self-directed work which will focus on a chosen aspect of civil engineering, studied elsewhere in the programme. This technical investigation will be characterised by the determination of an area of research, that establishes aims and objectives to be realised in pursuit of the research question/ problem statement where contemporary literature on the subject area is presented and appraised. On determining and selecting a method for investigation, contextualised those that already exist, the student will pursue the collection and analysis of data to realise the project aims. The project will be examined by a presentation verbally and also in writing, a critical analysis, justifiable conclusions and a reflection on the study undertaken, through the production of a technical thesis and via a verbal voce’.
To defend the research through the medium of a viva requires a thorough understanding of the subject studied and confidence of the results as presented.

All dissertations must identify a worthwhile topic worthy of investigation, a means of carrying out the investigation, justifying the choices in terms of logic and selecting appropriate statistical analysis to present results that hopefully will remove the need for investigator judgement as to whether or not the results are significant. Industry partners will help identify areas in need of laboratory research.

A well designed laboratory investigation will provide reliable data from which deductions can be safely made, free from interpretation. To achieve this reliability within the obtained results, a standard test procedure would normally be adopted. Alternatively a suitable bespoke test maybe carefully designed. The use of standard or non standard test procedures should be justified and informed by substantial background reading.

Selecting a suitable test procedure is not as easy as it sounds. One view would be that it is simply following a pre-determined method without any operator input and this will provide suitable results. This could not be further from the truth.

For example, a freeze thaw test that examines durability of concrete can be carried out to ASTM standards over a variety of freeze/thaw cycles, such as 300 cycles as detailed in ASTM 666 or 50 cycles as ASTM 672. The BS recommends 56 cycles and all standards have different measurement criteria from which conclusions can be drawn. Which one is best? How long do you have to complete a test? This may be the deciding factor. Can we accelerate the effect of the test by using conditions that are extremely aggressive? Has the laboratory sufficient equipment to carry out the test? Are suitably qualified staff available to assist and is there laboratory time available for all test proposals? Careful consideration of all of these factors should be made to determine a suitable test programme.

One of the main parameters for a short duration investigation such as a dissertation, is the length of time available to design and manufacture test materials. If concrete is chosen as a test material, we must not forget the time required to cure the test materials and the interim and final test time required to provide sound, defect free data.

This Chapter mainly focuses upon the design, batching and testing of concrete. It has been written because concrete being a conglomerate has many variables and is a perfect foil for this work. The testing of any other material may be subject to very similar constraints.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: H200 Civil Engineering
X200 Research and Study Skills in Education
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Mechanical and Construction Engineering
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Depositing User: Dr Alan Richardson
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2016 12:24
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2019 22:28

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