Senior thesis: Sustainable building with bamboo

June 9, 2016, noon
Senior Thesis Working with bamboo: Russell Archer and Lu Lu

Lu Lu (left) and Russell Archer worked together on their engineering senior thesis project, which focused on the design of a park canopy in Colombia. (Video still from Blake Hamilton, Office of Communications) 

The senior thesis: Quintessentially Princeton

Inspired by learning experiences both in and out of the classroom — around campus and across the globe — all Princeton undergraduates tackle a monumental academic challenge by completing a senior thesis.

The thesis, considered the capstone of Princeton students' academic journey, is an independent work that requires seniors to pursue original research and scholarship under the guidance of faculty advisers.

Last fall, two undergraduates in Sigrid Adriaenssens' lab in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering approached her about working together on their senior thesis project, from different angles.

Lu Lu, who is from Chongqing, China, wanted to work on sustainable construction with a focus on design and digital modeling. Russell Archer, who is from East Orange, New Jersey, wanted to physically test building materials. Adriaenssens served as the adviser for both students, who graduated in May.

With the help of a graduate student in Adriaenssens' lab, the seniors identified a partner, DAGMA (Departamento Administrativo de Gestión del Medio Ambiente, or the Administrative Department of Environmental Management), in Cali, Colombia. The students and the group collaborated on a project involving bamboo architecture and construction — the entrance canopy to a park to be used by schoolchildren.

Bamboo grows quickly, and is lightweight but strong. It has been used as a building material for centuries, but not much engineering analysis has been done on it. Lu focused on the structural form of the canopy, and Archer analyzed the effectiveness of the fishmouth joints used in the designs.

For six months, the seniors worked on the project on campus, creating models, running calculations and conducting experiments. In March, with funding from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, they traveled to Cali to meet with the DAGMA architects and engineers, share their results, and inform the design and construction of the bamboo canopy.

"My junior year, my sophomore year, I couldn't have imagined I would be traveling to Colombia," said Archer, who plans to pursue a master's degree in structural engineering. "I'm really impressed by the broadness of the entire project."

Adriaenssens said it's wonderful when senior thesis projects can be put into use, as it shows students how engineers can improve the world through their work.

"I really enjoyed this project because engineering is not only hard-core science — you calculate something but that's it. There's a very strong social component," Lu said.

Play Video: Senior thesis: Sustainable building with bamboo; Video embed #1

Russell Archer and Lu Lu, who both majored in civil and environmental engineering, partnered with a group in Colombia to analyze and design a bamboo canopy that is sustainable and strong. (Video by Blake Hamilton, Office of Communications)