“I do not think there is anything more rewarding than being able to envision something in your head, put it down on paper and then build it,” said structural engineering Ph.D student Samuel Sherry.

Sherry earned his B.S. and M.S. at the University of Oklahoma. He started a Ph.D. at the University of Delaware, but found himself working on a research topic he was not passionate about, which led him to Virginia Tech and a research topic that more aligned with his interests. Sherry has been working alongside his advisor Matthew Hebdon with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to develop new design and installation procedures to return structural deficient steel bridge members to their original strength and stiffness. Specifically, he is focusing on the use of carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs) to be used on structural steel infrastructure. The overall goal is to provide a stronger, stiffer, and lighter alternative to the conventional retrofits. He hopes to guide departments of transportation by sharing what environments CFRP retrofits can be used in, the service life of the retrofit solution, recommend best practices, and to develop bond characteristic models for different levels of corroded steel to CFRPs.

Like many structural engineers, the tangible outcomes of the research was the driving force in Sherry's choice of a career path in structural engineering. “I knew if I came to Virginia Tech and worked on some big projects, this research would make a tangible change in industry and move the current body of knowledge forward,” he said. In order to do that, he is sometimes involved in testing CFRP retrofit fails, which result in loud, sometimes violent, debonding of the CFRP from the beams. “It is the kind of stuff that makes you jump out of your chair,” he said. “But it is also my favorite part of being a large-scale experimentalist. I get to find the limits of the current design and materials.”

These experiments are done in the Thomas M. Murray Structures Lab, where Sherry is regularly found testing steel girders alongside faculty and his peers in structural engineering. The long hours in labs and on testing sites can be grueling for graduate students, but also have many benefits. “I will never forget being out on a bridge site all day running live load testing on a retrofit we just installed and then going out to a nice restaurant with my advisors and peers afterward,” Sherry said. “It is pretty amazing the friendships you forge during this kind of work.”

Following graduation, Sherry is still deciding whether to pursue a career as a faculty member to continue teaching and researching or work for a structural forensic firm. However, either way, he aims to continue to push the limits to make palpable changes in society.