Innovate, Incubate, Integrate
NOAA’s OFFICE OF OCEANIC ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH
Meet Arindam Gan Chowdhury
Using the ‘Wall of Wind’ Lab to Simulate a Hurricane
Arindam Gan Chowdhury, Ph.D., is a NOAA Sea Grant supported researcher working on the impacts of hurricane winds on the buildings and structures that make up cities and towns in our coastal environments. Using wind tunnels, he creates indoor hurricanes to improve the design of buildings in their path. Chowdhury is the director of the Laboratory for Wind Engineering Research at the International Hurricane Research Center and an assistant professor at Florida International University in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Why does your research matter?
My research activities are related to hurricane effects on buildings and other sturtures that make up coastal cities and towns. Our work aims to understand and mitigate hurricane impacts and enhance sustainability of infrastructure – including residential buildings, low-rise commercial buildings, power lines, electrical utilities, traffic signals, and other man-made structures. This research matters because our findings are beneficial for mitigating the massive losses due to hurricanes.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
The thing that I most enjoy is that our work is making a significant impact on hurricane damage mitigation in terms of strengthening building codes and validating innovative mitigation technologies. For example, recommendations for the Florida Building Code (FBC) based on research in our Wall of Wind facility were unanimously approved by the Florida Building Commission. The code modifications, reflected in FBC 2010, will influence wind loading on roof top equipment not only for Dade and Broward counties in Florida’s high risk hurricane zone, but also for the entire State of Florida. Hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 showed that rooftop equipment is extremely vulnerable causing roof damage and generating flying debris.
Where do you do most of your work? In a lab? In field studies?
Most of our work is done in our state-of-the-art Wall of Wind (WoW) facility at Florida International University. The Wall of WInd is capable of performing controlled and repeatable testing in flows that adequately and economically replicate hurricane winds accompanied by wind-driven rain.
What in your lab could you not live without?
In the lab I could not live without the cooperation of my extremely hard-working and dedicated colleagues and students, without whom we wouldn’t be where we are in terms of research. I also could not live without the fans that create our own hurricanes in the lab.
If you could invent any instrument to advance your research and cost were no object, what would it be? Why?
Wind engineering research is undergoing dramatic changes with new large- and full-scale research facilities being built worldwide to address windstorm induced economic losses. Florida International University’s Wall of Wind is such a facility and the final phase, which is comprised of 12 electric fan motor units, will generate sustained wind speeds associated with the most severe hurricanes. The Wall of Wind is a developing technology, and for us, it is an instrument for achieving resilient communities on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts and other hurricane or typhoon-prone areas. We havead several sponsors who believed in and funded the research and development including the National Science Foundation, Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida Sea Grant and Sea Grant Gulf of Mexico Regional Programs, the Department of Energy, RenaissanceRe, Roofing Alliance for Progress, AIR Worldwide, and others.
When did you know you wanted to pursue science?
I wanted to pursue science when I was in second grade and accompanied my Dad to his workplace. I was amazed by how science and technology helps build automobiles.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?
I would suggest Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics by Its Most Brilliant Teacher. This compilation of six lectures by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman breaks complex physics concepts down into language that almost anyone can understand.
And how about a personal favorite book?
I love mystery novels and enjoy all works by Agatha Christie. Five Little Pigs, Death on the Nile, and Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side are some of my favorites.
What part of your job as a scientist did you least expect to be doing?
I believe that everything we are doing is essential, and not unexpected, to achieve what we want. Research needs facility development, which we are pursuing. Any development needs a spirited team, and we are building one. New technologies have their own challenges, and we are addressing them.
Do you have an outside hobby?
I am crazy about music! I listen to it whenever I get a chance.
What would you be doing if you had not become a scientist?
Flying. I was always fascinated with becoming a pilot. I became a wind/structure interaction researcher; in both professions you need to believe in aerodynamics!
Who is your favorite historical scientist and why?
Louis Pasteur, the French chemist and microbiologist who made remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. Why? In addition to combating implications of natural disasters, I believe that one of the most important societal challenges is fighting diseases.
Arindam Gan Chowdhury received his Ph.D. in engineering mechanics from Iowa State University, his master’s degree in stuctural engineering from Indian Institute of Technology and his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Jadavpur University.