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Tim Dardis

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Tim Dardis

Ph.D. Candidate

Area of research
Mechanical engineering

Supported by
UW Commercialization Gap Fund — a partnership of the UW Center for Commercialization and the Washington Research Foundation

Tim is helping protect the Puget Sound’s wildlife by reducing the harmful noise pollution of aquatic construction projects.

Growing up in North Dakota, Tim Dardis spent countless hours watching rivers and creeks weave through the region’s wildlife refuges. His deep love of nature eventually led him to the Puget Sound, where he is working on innovations to reduce the underwater noise pollution.

Tim is part of a research team working to design a pile that makes marine construction projects quieter. When piles — the steel tubes that support ferry terminals, bridges and docks — are driven into the ocean floor, it causes noise that can damage the hearing of many marine mammals and fish, hindering their ability to find food. The impact of pile installation noise to the Puget Sound’s ecosystem is so severe that strict regulations govern marine construction projects, making them more expensive and challenging to complete.

Tim and his Ph.D. adviser, Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering Per Reinhall, have created a double pile design that confines the installation noise within the pile itself. Their innovation shows such promise that it received initial test-stage funding from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Later, the team secured a UW Commercialization Gap Fund to bring their research to the real world.

“Getting the gap funding was a great vote of confidence,” says Tim. “It has been amazing to have the funds to buy materials and equipment and to consult with experts so we can bring this project to reality.”

Today, WSDOT remains interested in Tim and Per’s invention. The agency is among multiple organizations supporting large-scale tests of the piles in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay this year. Ultimately, the double piles could be adopted worldwide to make construction in marine environments safer for animals and therefore less restrictive and expensive for builders. To prepare for that possibility, the UW Center for Commercialization recently helped Tim, Per and two other colleagues create a startup, Marine Construction Technologies.

“It’s rare for a project to benefit the environment while also reducing the cost of building civil structures,” says Tim. “It is really exciting to think this work could help ecosystems around the world.”

Web extra:

One idea, boundless benefits

Every day throughout Washington state, businesses and government agencies partner with the UW in efforts to make our region a better place. The work of graduate student Tim Dardis and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Per Reinhall serves as a model of the kind of impact one great UW idea can have on area industries.

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The seed for Tim and Per’s innovation was planted in 2008 when the
Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) called for proposals for quieter pile designs. Per and UW Professor of Mechanical Engineering Peter Dahl submitted the winning proposal. WSDOT has been supporting the research ever since.

As Tim and Per fine-tuned the original design to create the double pile concept, multiple other agencies got on board. Organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have contributed resources to this effort. Multiple consulting firms have provided expertise to Per and Tim. Further, two local manufacturers built the piles for the tests in Commencement Bay.

Now the new UW startup and public benefit corporation, Marine Construction Technologies, is fielding inquiries from statewide and national agencies interested in the pile design. The company’s goal is to make its product available to projects near and far. This will mean an increased demand for equipment, manufacturing services, agency partnerships and more.

As the UW group seeks to reduce the ripple effects of underwater construction noise, their work is poised to make some serious waves in our region’s economy.

Collaborating for the future

Agencies and businesses that have contributed to the double pile research development: