Teaching Steel Connections Using an Interactive Virtual Steel Sculpture

Saeed Moaveni, Karen Chai Kwan Chou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Steel connections play important roles in the integrity of a structure, and many structural failures are attributed to connection failures. Connections are the glue that holds a structure together. The failures of the Hartford Civic Center in 1977, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City in 1980, and the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis in 2007 are all attributed to connection failures. A good connection design requires engineer to have a good understanding of the mechanics and steel behavior. The engineer also should know the fabricator’s limitations and experience. In the past few years, in order to help students better understand various connection types; many schools have acquired the steel sculptures. A steel sculpture is a physical system that shows different types of connections found in standard construction practices. Unfortunately, because of its size and location (eight feet tall, weighs nearly 2500 pounds and usually erected outdoor), students do not always have easy access to it. Moreover, today’s students who belong to the Google generation are more comfortable with web-based learning tools. Through a NSF grant we have created an interactive version of the steel sculpture to provide not only an effective learning opportunity but also a 24-7 access to students and educators in the United States and abroad.

This work is the result of a collaborative effort among universities and students from different engineering programs. The virtual sculpture gives the user the freedom to rotate or pan the sculpture to view it from any direction. The user may also isolate any one of the connections for a closer view and learn more about that given connection including: description of the connection, potential failure modes (limit states), sample calculations of each limit state todetermine the load carrying capacity of the connection, field examples, and finite element models of various failure modes. The 3-D model provides a visual display of stress distribution in the connection area.

The solid model of the steel sculpture was developed using Creo and converted to a 3-D interactive PDF file. This was done to avoid the need for purchasing the Creo software. A web page was also developed from where users can download the virtual sculpture and all of the linked documents. Three survey forms were also developed with a slightly different focus to seek feedback from students, educators, and recent engineering graduates. The user may complete the online survey form after s/he has had an opportunity to explore the virtual sculpture. The capabilities of the virtual steel sculpture are presented in this paper.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-47
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of STEM Education: Innovations & Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015

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