Marc Easton, (25), has been a member of the Institution since 2008, and a practising structural engineer since September 2012 when he joined Arup in London. He is currently working to become a Chartered Member of the Institution.

Here he talks about winning the Educational Trust’s Pai Lin Li Travel Award, which funds young structural engineers on research trips outside their home nations.

I have worked on a number of interesting projects so far in my career – I am most proud of Reforma 509, a 240m, 58-storey skyscraper currently under construction in Mexico City. Our project team innovated a unique structural system for the project - a multi-storey braced frame that absorbs energy during a large earthquake, limiting the forces on the rest of the structure. These elements can be replaced after an earthquake, and help ensure the structural integrity of the building, and more importantly the safety of its occupants.

Reforma-509.jpgI feel privileged to have been awarded the Pai Lin Li Travel Award, as I know that there was a very high calibre of projects in the competition.

The project I entered into the Award was called 'Biorock for Structural Use'. Biorock is a limestone variant that is deposited on metallic objects in seawater when a small electrical current is applied. So far Biorock has only been used in coral reef regeneration schemes, but I wanted to investigate its use as a structural material, in locations where more conventional materials such as steel or concrete are unavailable or impractical.

I used the grant to travel abroad and meet experts in the set-up, growth and maintenance of Biorock. I began in New York to meet Thomas Goreau, a marine biologist and world leading expert in Biorock before travelling to sites in Indonesia and The Philippines to see Biorock installations first hand.

This really did provide me with a unique chance to understand the true properties of the material and some of the limitations that it may have. It also gave me the opportunity to speak with contractors and local people to gauge prevailing attitudes to Biorock as a potential building material, where I found unanimous support for the idea. I really hope that my project can lead to continued research into Biorock, as there seems to be real enthusiasm for the idea.

A Biorock reef in Bali - image by Wolf Hilbertz, Wikicommons

How would you explain what structural engineers do?

A structural engineer is a specialist who uses scientific and mathematical principles to design and justify a structure, most commonly buildings and bridges. This could range from ensuring a 100-storey tower can withstand typhoon and earthquake forces, to checking that a slender footbridge will not bounce or sway too much when a person walks across it.

A structural engineer holds a key role in the design team by providing advice on the optimum form, ensuring efficiency, buildability and aesthetics. There is often a misconception that engineers spend all of their time performing in-depth calculations, when in reality the best engineers I have worked with can often be found freehand sketching in meetings with architects and clients. They are creative, innovative professionals with a firm understanding of engineering principles.


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