Chris Carroll comes to UL from Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee, where he was highly regarded for his teaching abilities and for an innovative high school outreach program he created. He was also featured as a technical expert on the Lost Worlds series for The History Channel, and currently he and his students are building models of ancient structures for an upcoming series for The Discovery Channel, part of which will be filmed on the UL campus next month.

Chris Carroll, Civil Engineering, University of LouisianaTell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Tennessee. I'm originally from Elizabethton, Tennessee. I played a couple of years of baseball at King College in Bristol, Tennessee, then I transferred to the University of Tennessee. I did my bachelor's and master's there. I took off to Virginia Tech in 2005, and I was there four years doing a PhD.

I knew since I was little that I wanted to be an engineer, but I didn't know that I wanted to be a professor. That started my last year as an undergrad at UT when I started an outreach program there. I set it up so that we would go talk to a couple of high schools in Knoxville. It turned out to be a big hit with the kids. We would build balsa wood bridges, and the students would stack books onto them until they exploded. The kids absolutely loved it. Nobody ever fell asleep.

With that program, I realized that I really enjoy speaking with students about engineering, and that I had a future in teaching. I worked at the Tennessee Valley Authority for about three and a half years, from May 2002 to August 2005. I had a supervisor there who had gone to UT, then Virginia Tech, then back to UT for his PhD. He asked me if I ever thought about getting a PhD. I hadn't really thought much about it, I thought I would just get a master's and go design skyscrapers. But after the high school outreach program, I started thinking about it more. And then I began teaching freshman in my master's program. I had about 60 students, teaching them statics, dynamics, programming. So that was the final step to see if I wanted to do it. From there, I took off for Tech, and spent the next 4 years there.

The one thing that pulled me to Tech was that they gave me the option to teach for one semester. The first year I was there, they started a new program, the College of Engineering Teaching Fellowship Program.  So I applied for it. Originally I had only planned to be there three years, but I was one of five who got the fellowship that first year and it was set up so that you had to teach for three years in the program. I started off teaching one year in the freshman class, and then in the last two years I taught the reinforced concrete design program four times, which is the same class I teach here. So this year has been an easy transition for me.

My second year at Virginia Tech, I had gotten some ribbing about getting on a Country Music Television talk show, The Top 20 Countdown. They were walking around the beach interviewing people, and they happened to talk to me. So there was this joke going around about that, and I was considered one of the more out-going students in the program. Then Dr. Sotelino was contacted about some show for The History Channel.  They said were looking for a younger-looking American in engineering. She said, "You need to talk to this guy."

So I get an eMail from somebody at Atlantic Productions out of the UK, telling me that they want to do this show on bunkers. They asked me if I could send in a CV and some photos. I thought it was a joke. I went to Dr. Sotelino, and said "What is this?"

She said, "I don't know, just send it in." So I sent it in.

The next day I'm driving to school, and I get a call from some really long number. It's the producer in the UK for Atlantic Productions. We talk about 30 minutes, she interviews me, wants to know about my expertise. I told her I've done a lot of stuff with concrete, that's what my research is on. We get to the end, and she says, "Chris I'll be honest with you, I think you're the person to do this."

She wanted me to send in something on camera, to make sure I didn't have any twitches or other problems.  I sent in a video of me mixing concrete, explaining how it's like mixing cake batter. They loved it. So they said, "Alright, we want you to do this." They're telling me everything they want me to do. She goes into this long, 'What we're doing, Where we're going'.

This was two weeks before Thanksgiving in '06. In our initial conversation she asked if I could do a shoebox version of a bunker, and I said I thought I could do something better than that.

I went to my advisers and I said, "I think I'm going to be doing a TV show." They thought it was the coolest thing ever. I asked them if they thought we could build a bunker in the lab and drop a wrecking ball on it, to show how it could hold the load. I talked with the department head, and we worked it out to build the bunker for the show.

The Thursday before Thanksgiving we got the final word from Atlantic Productions to go ahead and build it. I went to the hardware store and bought all the lumber and rebar I thought we would need. Then I got about six grad students to help me with it. We only had about four days, and we met up Thursday afternoon scratching our heads.  Then I said, "OK, I think this is what we have to do." I came up with this small-scale bunker, 6 feet long, 5 feet wide and 5 feet tall.

Chris Carroll, Civil Engineering, University of LouisianaThey wanted a time-lapse video of the construction, and we wanted everything to run smoothly. So we wanted to build everything in pieces, to be able to assemble it easily. We had the AV people at Tech come in and set up a camera to record half-second video clips, every 30 seconds. Then we set up an assembly line, and on Friday and Saturday we built everything, then unassembled it.

At Tech you get a whole week off for Thanksgiving, so Monday morning before Thanksgiving, we hit 'Go' on the camera, took the pieces we had, and put those together in order. We had an interior set of formwork, then we put the rebar over that, and then we put the exterior formwork around it. We poured the concrete-- or placed it, some people don't like the term 'pour'-- OK, we cast the concrete on Tuesday. Then we all left. Usually you want it to set up in 28 days, but we only had 10. So we used higher strength concrete.

I had to be in DC the Sunday after Thanksgiving to start filming, so I relied on the guys at Tech to remove the forms.

We started filming at a bunker in Lorton, Virginia, just south of DC. There's a facility there where the DC fire and police departments would go in case of a bomb. Nobody knew about it, it was in the basement of a prison. We filmed there for one day, there wasn't much there.

Then we went to The Greenbriar, a resort in Lewisburg, West Virginia. This thing is amazing. It started off as a resort for kings, queens, royalty from other countries, then it turned into a hospital-- maybe in WWII?-- then it was made back into a resort.

When the Cold War started, underneath an addition to the hotel they built a bunker for Congress. It's basically two football fields stacked on top of each other. No one knew about it for 30 years. We got to stay there for three days.

At the resort?

Oh yeah, it was sweet.

At the resort we started filming in the bunker, which is neat because it's hidden, but it's hidden in plain sight. There's a wall that moves, and there's a blast door behind it that weighs, I think, 15 tons?

We filmed there for three days, and there was a history professor from the Ivy League. She did the historical stuff, and I did the technical stuff. It was so much fun.

When she was filming stuff, I didn't have to be there, so I just checked the place out. The hotel is kind of spooky. It's huge, and it was pretty empty. They asked me "Have you ever seen 'The Shining'?"

I said "No," and they said, "Don't go watch it tonight by yourself, because you won't sleep."

We did all the inside and outside filming there. There's another door that was the main access to the bunker that weighs 25 tons. I got to open and close it for the program. I also interviewed a guy about the ventilation system. So we filmed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at The Greenbriar, and Thursday afternoon we left for Tech, which is only a half hour away.

We walk into the lab, and the students and lab technicians had it all set up. They had to make an apparatus to release the wrecking ball from the crane, because the crane isn't made for sudden release. The crew filmed me walking around it and talking about it, and when we finished that, we dropped the wrecking ball.

Three times. I didn't really know how much the bunker could take. I had an idea, but I wasn't sure how far the ball needed to drop. So we dropped it from 6 inches, 12 inches, & 18 inches.

12 inches inches pretty much did it, but we did it from 18 inches just for fun. The ball weighs 3,000 lbs, and the higher you drop it from the impact point, the more it accelerates. The whole bunker was only 5 inches thick, and the capacity I calculated was about 30,000 lbs.  With acceleration, 18 inches was about that much load.

The production company absolutely loved it, and The History Channel loved it.

That was the end of The Greenbriar portion of the show. From there they went on to Chicago to do a Lost Worlds show on Al Capone.

The episode was broadcast on the Lost Worlds series, "Secret US Bunkers." [The show will air next Wednesday, January 20, at 11:00 AM and 05:00 PM. It can also be purchased here, and can be viewed on YouTube:  Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V.]

How did you end up here at here at UL?

I wanted to be in the South. I don't like cold weather. There were only 20 openings last year for structural engineering faculty in the whole country, and I would guess 60% of them were in the "north," i.e., above Tennessee.

So this was one of the schools I applied to. I fit what UL was looking for, and it gave me an opportunity to be highly involved right off the bat. A lot of the times you go to a university, and you're the new kid, you just do your research. But UL has smaller classes, and you get to know your students. I taught one class at VT with 65 students, and that was an upper level class. This allows me to be more personable. It's more fun that way.

I had to take a lot of pedagogy and engineering ed at VT. One of the things you learn is to tailor your teaching style to the learning style of your students. You can take the top 10% of any class, and just give them the book. But you have to teach the whole class, you have to figure out how to teach everyone. You may have someone who isn't a very strong student, but it may just be that their learning style is different from the teaching styles of every professor they've ever had. So part of the concept is to incorporate the learning styles of all of your students in your teaching. And everyone here in the community wants engineering graduates that have more practical experience, more hands-on experience. That's my goal, to produce students that have more hands-on experience than you get at other universities.

I have a group of nine students doing the AISC/ASCHE steel bridge competition, and I have three students doing the ACI Fiber reinforced concrete bowling ball competition. The bridge team will compete in the regional competition in New Orleans, and the bowling ball team will compete in Chicago, both of them this Spring.

Did the TV show help you get this job?

I don't know if TV gets you that much in academia. It's more your teaching & research.

What are your impressions of UL and the city?

I like it so far. I've only been here since August. I'm getting accustomed to the Cajun culture [chuckles]. I'm learning how to eat. I'm learning what to eat.

What have you eaten?

I've had a bunch of stuff at the Blue Dog. I got the New Orleans experience a couple of weeks ago at a conference. My students keep telling they're going to bring me boudin and gratons.

Then there's the accent. 'Course I can't say much, because I have one.

I've been so busy. I hit the ground running when I got here. The people are extremely friendly, and that was what I was told before I came her. I had a professor who had been at LSU, and he said the Cajun Culture is the friendliest you'll ever meet.

Another thing I've noticed is how much support I've gotten from everybody, from Alumni, faculty... tremendous support that I'm not sure you'd get at every institution.

So what else is in the works?

Some of my students and I are working on a tester series for The Discovery Channel, "Engineering the Past."  Right now we're working on two two-hour specials, one that focuses on Egypt, and one on Rome. I am one of three or four hosts.  One of the hosts is Steve Burrows, who is with ARUP and was one of the designers of the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube for the Beijing Olympics.  He's in Egypt right now.

Our job is to design and build the demos for the show, and demonstrate ancient engineering techniques  We're building models of the Pantheon, an aqueduct, a small pyramid, and showing how they moved large blocks around. The Discovery Channel will be on campus starting February 8th, for three weeks of filming.  The first two weeks they'll have a guy doing time-lapse photography while we build the structures, and he'll also follow me around as I work with local businesses. The last week they'll bring in a crew to film us demonstrating the models.

There are about 8 or 9 students working with me.  We laid everything out last Monday & Tuesday, and I'm getting equipment today (Thursday) to start building the foundations.

It's very exciting, and my kids are really enjoying it.