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Big Research? Big Room!

Academic year 2020/2021, in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, shut down many CU Denver facilities including non-essential laboratory space on our Auraria Campus in downtown Denver. Did this stop civil engineering graduate student Fred Sturgell? No! Not having access to the Environmental and Hydraulics Laboratory in Boulder Creek 102, he planned, performed, and perfected the experiments for his master’s report in his garage. This work has recently been reported in the Journal of Cold Regions Engineering published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Question: Fred, what problem did your research solve? 

Answer: My research provided a reasonable solution to remove water from below-grade sump pump discharge pipes that are subject to freezing. I have demonstrated that water can effectively be removed from varying diameters of 10-ft-long pipe using compressed air.   

Question: How did your research question build on your professional experience?

Answer: During my research I had the opportunity to ready and study many journal articles and textbooks and apply knowledge learned in my master’s program.  Also meeting regularly with Dr. Mays, my advisor, has helped me increase my professional capacity as a civil engineer. 

Question: How did it feel to convert your garage into a laboratory?

Answer: I enjoyed the convenience.  I work from home, and it was nice to do my lab work from home as well.  

Question: How cold was your garage in the middle of winter?

Answer: My garage is not heated but is insulated and adjacent to conditioned space.  It was usually above 40 degrees and was comfortable to work in with a light jacket.

Question: Now that you’re done, and your graduate research has been published, can you offer any advice to those considering graduate school?

Answer: For me, choosing to pursue a graduate degree from CU Denver was a great decision. The courses were relevant, interesting, helpful and had excellent instruction.


Sturgell, F.D. and D.C. Mays (2023), Pneumatic evacuation to prevent freezing in outdoor sump pump drains, Journal of Cold Regions Engineering, 37(2), 06023001,

CU Denver Engineering, Design and Computing View All

At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.

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