Earth Science Partners with Mechanical Engineering to Build Physical Models

Over the last two years, the Earth Science department has partnered with Mechanical Engineering to construct physical models. These collaborations provide opportunities for both programs: ME senior students gain valuable design and construction experience while geology students benefit from physical models used in lab.

Project 1: The Low-Flow Sedimentary Flume

An initial partnership began in the spring of 2012 and continued into 2013. Senior ME students Alex Scott and E. Miles Brown worked to construct a 10-foot long flume that could be used in sedimentology class demonstrations. They based their flume design on construction plans available via the SERC Cutting Edge website. Working with Dr. Wolak in the geology program and Dr. Wilson in the ME department, the students modified their design to fit in the available Kittrell Hall lab space. They also communicated with local suppliers such as Herron Glass to design a stable tank that wouldn’t leak.


Senior ME student Alex Scott welds the steel frame of the flume tank.

miles sand blasting

E. Miles Brown works on sand blasting steel pieces to be used in the tank construction.


Testing the completed flume tank for leaks or spills.


TTU ME students help deliver the steel flume tank to Kittrell Hall.

In the fall of 2014, students enrolled in Sedimentation and Stratigraphy (GEOL 4110) used the flume tank to investigate how sedimentary structures form. In particular, they were able to recreate conditions that result in sole marks such as flute casts and scours.


Geology students observe scour marks around pebbles as water recirculates in the low-flow flume.


An earth science senior carefully places pebbles for a class-designed experiment in the flume.

Project 2: The TTU Desktop Delta

In the fall of 2014, the two departments partnered again to build a Desktop Delta, a physical model used to illustrate links between sea level and clinoform progradation. Like the flume, construction plans for a Desktop Delta were available from the SERC Cutting Edge website. Senior ME students Stephen Zuccaro and Denver McCann took on the project under the guidance of Jeff Foote. In addition to modeling design ideas in CAD, they documented modifications such as a mechanism to easily raise and lower water level (photos below).

Flume CAD

CAD images of the desktop delta built by senior ME majors.

Delta 2

An updated steel slidebar is used to control the rise and fall of the water level in the tank.


Sed/strat students use the desktop delta to recreate clinoforms in Kittrell Hall room 104.

Again, the Sedimentation and Stratigraphy course benefitted from the partnership, completing lab exercises using the Delta for sequence stratigraphic modeling. Using fine-grained sand and crushed coal, the class recreated hundreds of thousands of year of delta progradation over the span of a few hours. Raising ‘sea level’ in the tank resulted in deposition updip; lowering sea level resulted in erosion and redeposition downdip.


Clinoform progradation in the TTU Desktop Delta.

Stay tuned for future partnerships and cross-college collaborations in the Earth Science program!

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