Carl Bernier, third-year graduate student in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), has received the Nettie S. Autrey Fellowship from Rice University. The extremely competitive award is given annually by Rice’s Graduate Council to a student in science or engineering who demonstrates “outstanding achievement and promise.” Bernier was nominated by his adviser, Jamie Padgett, and CEE department chair Robert Griffin.
The fellowship will support Bernier’s research on the structural safety of above-ground storage tanks during severe storms.
“I want to understand why these tanks fail during hurricanes, and how we can improve them for the future,” he said. “One part of this work is forensic engineering, looking at tank failures to find out what happened and why, and then the other part is using numerical models to figure out how to prevent these failures and improve the resilience of these key energy infrastructures.”
Above-ground storage tanks, which store various chemicals but mostly oil and gas, have historically been vulnerable to severe storms and hurricanes. Once damaged by wind or storm surge, the contents of the tanks can leak out into local water sources, endangering the environment and public health.
“During Katrina, 7 million gallons of oil spilled due to the failure of these tanks. During Harvey, about 0.6 million gallons of oil were spilled in the Houston area,” he said. “After Harvey, there was a renewed interest in discovering why these failures were happening and how to improve the tanks so they can withstand future hurricanes. There is more attention and public awareness about this work right now.”
Bernier said Houston is an excellent hub for this research, due to the amount of petrochemical activity and business surrounding one of the world’s biggest ports.
“The Houston Ship Channel is one of the largest industrial corridors in the U.S., so there is a lot of industry and a lot of resources that we wouldn't be able to get otherwise,” he said. “It is a great benefit of working at Rice.”