Thousands of students pass under the West Hall Engine Arch on the way to or from classes every day, but few probably realize that they are walking by one of the largest and oldest hydrodynamics testing tanks in the United States.
The Physical Modeling Basin of the University’s Marine Hydrodynamics Lab, part of the College of Engineering’s Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, has tested everything from experimental naval models for the government and private industry to routines for competitive swimmers to even theories about the Bermuda Triangle.
“Our primary function is to do research, education, and then commercial testing,” said Timothy J. Peters, assistant director of the MHL. “Anything that comes through the door that’s off the beaten track and is really an engineering test to solve different problems always tends to be really interesting and gives us a chance to stretch a bit.”
Located on the first floor of the building and flooded with sunlight beaming in through glass-block windows, the tank has been in use for 105 years since its construction as a part of what was then called West Engineering in 1904.
“The building was pretty much built around the tank,” Peters said. “That’s the reason why we’re the only engineering thing on Central Campus, because they can’t move the tank, or else we’d be up on North Campus with the rest of the engineers.”
According to Peters, the tank is 360 feet long and 22 feet wide and its depth varies from 12 to 15 feet. It currently holds between 450,000 and 500,000 gallons of Ann Arbor tap water, although Peters asserts that “it can definitely hold a lot more than that.”
On top of the tank is a carriage that can travel along the tank at speeds of up to 22 feet per second.
The MHL has a staff of ten people who do testing two weeks out of the month, and Peters said there is a lot of testing scheduled for the near future.
He added that students should call the MHL to arrange group tours of what he describes as “a very unique environment.”
“We’re the second largest tank in the United States,” he said. “To get a ride on the carriage of the second largest tank is pretty neat.”