MORGANTOWN , W.Va.Researchers at West Virginia University are pleased with recent test results as part of a project to help keep the nations tunnels safe.

In a project funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Securitys Science and Technology Directorate , researchers from WVU s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources have designed a large inflatable plug with the potential to seal off tunnels to help prevent the spread of smoke, toxic fumes, gases and flooding water in case of an emergency.The concept underwent its first water-pressurized tests recently in Morgantown with good results, and is progressing rapidly toward commercial deployment.

WVU civil and environmental engineering professor Julio Davalos is the lead researcher for the project, which began in 2007. Davalos and his team first tested an air-filled, full-scale tunnel plug in a Washington, D.C. Metro system tunnel last summer with promising results.

The recent tests in Morgantown were conducted in a one-quarter-scale (four-foot-diameter) concrete tunnel constructed especially for the project at the WVU hangar at the Morgantown airport. The bag was filled with water and then subjected to 35 pounds per square inch of pressure. Even when the water pressure inside the bag was reduced, it held against the external pressure being applied.

Davalos said that the next step is to construct a full-scale model tunnel and further hone the design and operation of the system.

This is one of the most exciting and challenging projects of my career,said Davalos.The rapid pace at which we are moving toward the commercial deployment of this system is clearly the result of the critical need for a system like this. It is gratifying to work with such an incredibly dedicated multidisciplinary team toward such an important goal.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security attended the recent tests, along with representatives from a number of participating organizations, including the Transportation Security Administration, the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, the Washington D.C. Metro System, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and ILC Dover, the company that manufactured the scale model of the plug to the researchersspecifications.

Ever Barbero, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at WVU , is overseeing the projects modeling and simulation work. Other WVU faculty members involved in the project include mechanical and aerospace engineering professors Larry Banta , Kenneth Means , and Wade Huebsch ; project coordinator is Javier Martinez.