Arindam Chowdhury Florida International University Engineering Professor at the Wall of Wind

By James Hellegaard

Engineering Professor Arindam Chowdhury took top honors at the 2012 Faculty Convocation when he received the President’s Council Worlds Ahead Faculty Award. Under Chowdhury’s direction, FIU researchers made international news last fall when they unveiled the country’s most powerful hurricane simulator, the Wall of Wind (WOW), capable of generating a Category 5 hurricane for purposes of testing building materials.

1. Wow. No pun intended, you had quite a fall semester. What was it like to get all that media attention for your life’s work?

It shows that whatever I’ve been doing for the last six years was important for the community. We have accomplished a lot with our research, so I’m very glad to see that our work as a team has been recognized.

2. We hear a lot about computer engineers and electrical engineers. Is wind engineering a new specialty?

Wind engineering is certainly not a new specialty, but it is not done at very many places in the U.S. I think wind engineering is the only discipline that can really make a difference in terms of making
hurricane-resilient communities.

3. Are you afraid of hurricanes?

I’m not afraid of hurricanes, but I’m concerned about hurricanes. I didn’t know what a hurricane was like until I came here from Iowa, which was seven days after Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida in
2005. I was very scared to see what had happened even with a very low strength hurricane. All the lights were gone and it was dark. The traffic lights were not there and it looked like a ghost city.

4. What’s the biggest misconception people have about the damage hurricanes can do?

People think that at a low wind speed there won’t be much damage, but that’s not the case. Even at lower wind speeds you can have a lot of water intrusion, which is one of the biggest causes of losses during a hurricane. We also have misconceptions about mitigation. People still think if you put tape on the glass that’s going to save it, but that’s not going to do anything.

5. The big hurricane event of 2012 was Hurricane Sandy. Any lessons we can learn from what happened?

Absolutely. We have to understand that a hurricane is a multistressor event. There are a lot of forces that can act on a structure. You have the wind, the wind-driven rain, the storm surge, the wave and, of course, flooding. What Sandy showed us is that even a hurricane that does not have very strong wind can cause a lot of trauma and inconvenience to people and cause a lot of economic loss because of the flooding.   ♦


Photo by Doug Garland ’10