Bovay Laboratory Complex

Earthquakes, landslides, heavy traffic areas—all of these conditions have effects on bridges, buildings, tunnels, buried pipelines, and other critical lifeline facilities.

In the Civil Infrastructure Lab, CEE students receive hands-on experience, observing what large forces and displacements can do to soil, concrete, steel, and other fabricated materials and structures. In lecture courses, students have learned the fundamentals and built models to predict effects, but it is in the laboratory that such models are tested and validated, often prompting new theories and new models of infrastructure-behavior.

The ability to test both structures and soil at full-scale adds a special dimension to the Cornell experience by showing dramatically how systems respond to external loads and ground failure. States one student, “Being able to physically see the same ideas we had learned conceptually in class was very beneficial. It really helped me learn the material better. I have gained more practical and technical/theoretical knowledge from this lab than in any lecture course I have taken thus far.”

Earthquakes and landslides cause overwhelming damage, injury and death, and cannot be controlled by humans. Better understanding earthquakes through research will help us create safer and more resilient structures, develop early warning systems, and estimate short-term and long-term seismic hazard.

The Civil Infrastructure Lab is home to the Cornell 3-meter biaxial direct shear apparatus that consists of a 3-meter-wide, 4.9-meter-long, steel load frame and two banks of hydraulic cylinders capable of applying 32 MN (3597 tons) of force to a 3-meter-long slab of Barre gray granite.  This apparatus is the largest of its kind in the world and is utilized to generate small scale earthquakes.  Students and faculty study the mechanics of fault rupture and the physical mechanisms by which faults and fractures generate seismic waves.  The 3-meter device is also used to study the way that dynamic fault rupture events initiate, propagate and terminate including the seismic waves that are radiated by the rocks during these processes.

CEE students receive hands-on experience, designing, setting up and performing tests, and recording and analyzing real life data. The ability to observe these events in real time creates a total package of both practical and theoretical knowledge, increasing the understanding and enthusiasm of the students. 


The 12,500-sq-ft Bovay Civil Infrastructure Laboratory Complex has several components, including the George Winter High Bay, the Leone-Perkins Materials Technology Lab, the Kenneth E. '63 and Ruth Arnold Fabrication and Testing Lab, the Civil Engineering Class of 1949 Curing Room, The Reed L. McJunkin ’32 Electronics Laboratory, the Joseph D. Dreyfuss II ’61 Control Center and the Richard N. White Instructional Facility.

Student working in lab
Kenneth E. '63 and Ruth Arnold Fabrication and Testing Lab

Two areas were renovated in 2004 - the Richard N. White Instructional Facility and the facilities supporting the NSF-funded George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), in which Cornell is one of 15 national sites. The White Instructional Facility is wired with high-speed internet connectivity and state-of-the-art video/audio capabilities for distance-learning and remote, real-time observation of laboratory experiments.

Richard N. White Instructional Facility
Richard N. White Instructional Facility

The Cornell NEES site is designed for testing lifelines and includes a custom-fabricated "strong wall" for large-scale civil infrastructure research, special hydraulic systems for large displacement testing, several specialized load frames, and a variety of data acquisition and electronic control systems. A series of large-scale experiments sponsored by NSF and Tokyo Gas, Ltd. provide an excellent example of the kind of testing that is possible in this facility. These tests were designed to evaluate the effects of earthquake-induced ground rupture on polyethylene and welded steel pipelines and are the largest full-scale replication of ground deformation effects on pipelines ever performed in a laboratory. Experimental split test basins with a capacity of over 100 tons of soil were displaced over 1 meter relative to each other to simulate the type of abrupt displacement generated by lateral spread landslides and surface faulting. Various graduate, undergraduate, and high school students were involved in the design and construction of the experiment.

The test results provide data for designing sophisticated software programs that model soil-pipeline interaction. The model permits greater reliability and sophistication in the evaluation of pipeline response to ground failure and have direct relevance for installing underground gas, water, petroleum, and electrical conduits in earthquake prone areas. Undergraduates have been involved in several phases of the experimental design and subsequent use of the computational simulations.

Emergency Contact:
James Strait
Manager of Tech Services, Bovay Lab
B02 Thurston Hall /130 Hollister Drive
Ithaca, NY  14853

Phone: 607-255-4078
Cell: 607-592-6648