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Villanova’s Dr. Joseph Yost, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has long worked in traditional areas of structural research, including concrete, steel and composite materials. He expected he would continue in that vein during his spring 2018 sabbatical, however, a visiting scholar invitation to the Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany, set him on a different path. “I was asked to work in structural glass, an area completely unfamiliar to me,” he says. A chance to learn something new from the best in the field at one of the top universities in Europe convinced him to take advantage of the opportunity. Today, a collaborative team of faculty and students at Villanova, TU Darmstadt, City College of New York and the University of Pennsylvania’s architectural program is pursuing a first-of-its-kind pedestrian bridge assembled from hollow glass units that are modular in construction and design.

“We are looking at quite a novel use of the material,” says Dr. Yost. “There is currently no structure built entirely of glass in a geometric form, so that it is compression dominant.” What makes the work unique and challenging is determining how to assemble the glass pieces so that they act as a single structural system without glass bearing on glass. Unit testing is being conducted in Villanova’s Richard K. Faris ’69 CE, ’70 MSCE Structural Engineering Teaching and Research Laboratory.

Dr. Yost estimates that within a year, the team will complete a small-scale bridge prototype to test the structure’s behavior, understand the assembly required and connections between the neighboring glass units, and ultimately determine how it’s supported. They hope to exhibit their work at glasstec 2022 in Düsseldorf, Germany, a key showcase for glass innovations worldwide where the work would receive a great deal of exposure to academia and industry.

“When I look back, it was a really smart decision to go to TU Darmstadt for my sabbatical,” says Dr. Yost. “For one, the field is fascinating; I drive around and find myself looking at glass with a completely different appreciation. Secondly, the opportunity to have worked with the German faculty—experts in the field of glass engineering—was invaluable. Furthermore, in comparison to Europe and Asia, there appears to be less work being done domestically in the field of structural glass, so I saw the opportunity to contribute something here. Finally, skiing in Italy with my new research colleagues added nicely to a most rewarding sabbatical experience!”