Villanova University Engineers Awarded Major Research Instrumentation Grant by National Science Foundation

The grant will be used to install a one-of-a-kind flume to advance hydrology research


VILLANOVA, Pa. (October 17, 2023) Villanova University professors of Civil and Environmental Engineering Virginia Smith, PhD; Rob Traver, PhD, PE, D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE; Kelly Good, PhD, PE; Bridget Wadzuk, PhD and Kevin Waters, PhD, PE have been awarded a three-year, $1.4 million Major Research Instrumentation grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the installation and upkeep of a unidirectional sediment-feed tilting flume. The device will serve a wide scope of hydrology research projects and experiments for Villanova researchers as well as national and international partners in academia, water utilities and engineering firms.

With the ability to mimic numerous real-world variables, the flume can be used to research diverse topics, such as urban hydrology, sediment deposits, soil liquefaction, fluvial processes and sediment capping technologies, in a manner that would otherwise not be possible. It has the ability to tilt on an incline, weigh and recirculate sediment, create waves and control water flow and height, among other features. Additionally, to further test how Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) handles various conditions, members of the Villanova Center for Resilient Water Systems (VCRWS) team invented GSI trays that can be inserted into the flume, making the device the only in the world with its capabilities.

“To be able to research on a unique piece of equipment like this is very auspicious for us,” said Dr. Smith. “Over the past 20 years, we have been able to gain great insight into how stormwater infrastructure works and how green stormwater solutions can be powerful. But the real world is messy and complicated. Being able to pair the existing dataset with laboratory experiments on the flume and isolate single variables will allow us to understand the drivers and causes of why different types of infrastructure succeed or underperform under various conditions and will advance the science around stormwater engineering.”

The flume will be primarily assembled overseas and shipped to Villanova, where it will be housed in a lab in the basement of the newly-expanded engineering building. The channel, which is the main component of the flume, will be glass-sided and measure roughly 50 feet long and three feet in both height and width. It will be suspended inside a frame on a stainless-steel base. The instrument will also be optimized for observation, featuring a raised walkway, significant spacing between frame supports and a glass window on the bottom of the channel for the use of cameras or lasers.

In addition to Villanova faculty and student researchers, more than a dozen collaborating partners – including academic institutions, private engineering firms and the Philadelphia Water Department – will have access to the flume for research, teaching and professional training. The principal investigators at Villanova are also dedicated to designing and implementing programs that will provide opportunities and access for K-12 students interested in the sciences and enrich their academic experience.

“Advancing our knowledge allows us to improve our designs and maintenance programs to deal with the challenges of urbanization and the change in climate,” said Dr. Traver, director of VCRWS. “Collaboration with other universities and partners can accelerate these advances and provide a broader approach to the challenges we face.”

The NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Grant is intended to provide support for the acquisition or creation of instrumentation that will advance scientific and engineering research that otherwise may not be possible. It was one of two NSF grants recently awarded to the VCRWS team, the other being a two-year, $250,000 planning grant to set up a global engineering research center for urban hydrology.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit