Rakesh Gupta, professor in the Department of Wood Science and Engineering at Oregon State University, came to the United States after obtaining his undergraduate degree at G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, UP, India. Upon achieving a Master’s at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and a PhD at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, he found himself drawn to a career conducting research and teaching students at OSU. “I interviewed at a lot of universities, but this is the one place in the country where we study wood as a structural material, and also one of the biggest forestry colleges in the country. Those were the most attractive features of this job,” says Gupta.
As an engineer, he is sometimes asked why he chooses to work in wood. “Wood is a very interesting material because of its complexity and it can be a challenge to use it properly, he says. “Of course, it is also the most environmentally friendly building material which is very important, but it also has many other positive attributes, such as, it is light yet strong and stiff, and it is renewable, sustainable, recyclable, hence probably the only ‘green’ building material.”
At OSU, Gupta’s research has focused primarily on the design of wood structures. “Our main focus is on intelligent and efficient use of wood in structural applications. We’re looking to improve the performance of wood structures and make them more economical, and hopefully more attractive, to consumers and the public.”
More specifically, Gupta and his team of graduate students are looking at the seismic behavior of wood buildings. “I think it’s important to see how these structures perform in earthquake situations and then determine how we can improve them,” Gupta says. “This process involves looking at many of the mechanical properties of wood and connections and seeing what improvements can be made in those areas as well.”
He also enjoys leading a team of students through a National Timber Bridge Design competition, an annual event sponsored by Southwest Mississippi Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), Inc. and made possible by a grant from the USDA Forest Service through its Wood in Transportation Program, with additional financial support provided by Unit Structures LLC. OSU students have done well in the competition bringing in cash prizes almost every year. The project is important for engineers, says Gupta, because it represents one of the only opportunities students will have to design and complete a wood structure. Since 90% of all structures in the U.S, are wood-framed structures, it is critical that engineers understand wood as a building material.
“Wood is a very complex material,” he says. “Even though we’ve been using it for a long, long time, we still don’t know everything about it. You have to know the basic properties of any material in order to use it properly.”
Much of Gupta’s inspiration to become an engineer came from his experiences as a child. “Where I was growing up, I was surrounded by concrete and brick. In India, most houses are made of those materials, so wood was something I got interested in when I came here,” Gupta notes. “When it comes to engineering, I remember being young and enjoying watching construction projects. I would stand outside just to see people build things. Maybe that was an indication that I’d eventually become an engineer,” he says with a smile.
Bio of Rakesh Gupta written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry