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Fritz Lab Centennial: celebrating a legacy of engineering innovation

A century ago, university trustee John Fritz endowed The School of Civil Engineering at Lehigh with a laboratory equipped to tackle the infrastructure challenges of its day.

For three days this fall, alumni, scholars, and captains of industry will gather on campus to celebrate the Lab's legacy and chart its course for the next 100 years.

The Fritz Engineering Laboratory Centennial will take place October 22-24, 2009. Attendees will engage in an ambitious slate of activities, including two half-day symposia, tours of campus landmarks and the Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems (ATLSS) Research Center, plus multiple social and networking opportunities culminating at a gala dinner on Saturday evening.

Click above to visit the event Web site.



The great pastime of the weekend may well turn out to be work. On Friday afternoon, event attendees will have the chance to take part in a hands-on exercise known as a charette. Participants will break into small groups, facilitated by design professionals, and spark a creative discourse. Their assignment: redesign Fritz Lab as a 21st-century research and testing facility. The fruits of their labor will become a poster presentation on display during Saturday’s cocktail reception.

The centennial arrives at a pivotal time for the lab and the department it houses. "The original Fritz Laboratory was built to confront the civil and industrial challenges we then faced as a nation -- mining, steel production, railways, roads, buildings, bridges, water supply and treatment systems among them," says Stephen Pessiki, chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering. "Now, clean water, air, energy, and sustainability are the pressing issues of our day and they’re international in scope. While our challenges have evolved, what remains constant is our focus on education and research that addresses them."

A singular Lehigh legacy

What does Lehigh University uniquely share with figures such as George Westinghouse, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Alfred Nobel, Gen. George Goethals, Guglielmo Marconi, Orville Wright, and Stephen Bechtel?

It shares the enduring luster of John Fritz's good name. The accomplished men named above are all past recipients of the John Fritz Medal, established in 1902 by the four national engineering societies of the era -- civil, mechanical, electrical, and mining-and-metallurgical -- to honor high achievement in the industrial sciences. Fritz himself was the first to receive the medal at a celebration of his 80th birthday. Over time, three other Lehigh engineers have joined the distinguished roster of medal winners: Lynn S. Beedle in 1995, John W. Fisher in 2000, and George Tamaro in 2005.

"You need an up-to-date engineering laboratory and I intend to build one for you."

To the engineering profession, he's widely known as the "Father of the U.S. Steel Industry." To the Lehigh students who frequently sought his counsel, he was simply "Uncle John." The familial titles reflect the stature and affection afforded Fritz, a native son of Pennsylvania, friend to Asa Packer, and self-taught engineer who came to the Lehigh Valley in 1860 to design and erect a plant for the Bethlehem Iron Company (the future Bethlehem Steel Corporation). Fritz admired the training engineering students received at Lehigh -- so much so that he personally funded, designed, and supervised the construction of a research laboratory to advance their studies in materials, structures and hydraulics.

The original Fritz lab, circa 1925.

Fritz Lab also thrived by supporting the testing needs of industry. Through its doors passed components of iconic American structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Holland Tunnel and the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, to name just a few. In the mid-20th century, research projects conducted at the lab by the American National Standards Institute set parameters that influence the design of bridges and buildings to this day.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Lynn Beedle, the American Society of Civil Engineers designated the original Fritz Engineering Laboratory a civil engineering landmark on June 6, 1992.

For more information about the Fritz Engineering Laboratory Centennial, visit the Fritz 100 Web site.

—Shelley Drozd

 

Posted on Friday, August 07, 2009

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