Building Science Students Completing Undergraduate Research

Before graduating, every student in the McWhorter School of Building Science completes a senior thesis based on the all-encompassing summary of a construction project. This year, however, two fourth-year students have chosen instead to do research theses in very specific areas of interest with the support of mentors on the building science faculty.


James Craig: Semi-Autonomous Material Mover Robot

When James Craig heard about the opportunity to do undergraduate research from Assistant Professor April Simons, who heads the school’s undergraduate research committee, he decided to investigate the topic of robotics and the applications of artificial intelligence to construction. “I’ve always thought that the ability to create complex functions to make life easier is really useful,” Craig said. Upon learning of Assistant Professor Jeff Kim’s ongoing research using a small consumer-level robot to perform semi-autonomous material moving tasks, he asked Kim to be his mentor.

Craig’s research involves programming Kim’s robot to move materials on a small-scale job site. Craig started by programming the robot to complete point-to-point functions then progressed to studying how to make the robot move between tasks without needing to return to home base. “The end goal is for me to set it up on a job site that it’s programmed for; locate itself, orient itself and calibrate itself and then get to wherever you want it to go.” Craig and Kim are working with a 1:10 job site scale. “There are actually a lot of great things about that one to 10 scale number,” Craig explained. “For one thing, the gripper on my robot is 10 centimeters wide. So at 100 centimeters, which is full scale size, it would be big enough to pick up a 3×3 foot palette, adding some realism to my experiments.”

Craig is hoping to finish his research by next summer and plans to graduate in August 2021. As part of his project, he will be building and maintaining a website that features videos of his experiments and gives updates on his findings.


Sadie Hardcastle: Zion Episcopal Church Façade Restoration

Sadie Hardcastle has always been interested in historical preservation. “I love old buildings,” Hardcastle explained. “I think they’re really cool, and I love being able to keep them around for as long as possible.” Instead of going the traditional thesis route, she approached Assistant Professor Lauren Redden for advice on opportunities for preservation-based research. Redden connected her with a colleague who works for the Historic Columbus Foundation, which had awarded a grant for the preservation of Zion Episcopal Church in Talbotton, Georgia. The church, which was built in the English Gothic style in 1848, recently underwent a major renovation, and Hardcastle is focusing on the restoration of the church’s timber façade. “There’s a severe lack of knowledge in that area,” she said, “so we’re using it as a case study to look at how you go about restoring timber, especially timber that’s over 100 years old.”

Hardcastle’s research includes an overview of the church’s structure, an analysis of the construction techniques used in repairing the façade and an evaluation of the obstacles contractors had to overcome during the restoration. She plans to graduate this December and will move to Nashville to work for Hardcastle Construction Company as an assistant project manager and estimator.