The University of Michigan MIDEN virtual reality cave gives Michigan Engineers an unprecedented insight into the way structures come together, buckle, and collapse. The MIDEN foregoes physically constructing “steel sculptures” traditionally used to teach structural engineers steel connections by allowing students to enter a 10×10 screen enclosure that projects an image of this teaching tool.

By using a game-like controller and a specialized headset, as well as their physical orientation within the enclosure, students can easily alter their perspective of the structure they are seeing, which allows them to gain understanding of difficult concepts faster than ever before.

Many universities around the world make use of the traditional “steel sculpture” to teach structural engineers the various connections that can be made by structures. But with 50 connections of various shapes and sizes, the sculpture itself can be quite large, stationary and difficult to view with great detail. The MIDEN virtual reality cave improves upon these limitations by empowering students to simply fly up to and around all of the structures’ features.

About the Professor: Sherif El-Tawil ( is Professor and Associate Chair in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Prof. El-Tawil’s general research interest lies in computational modeling, analysis, and testing of structural materials and systems. He is especially interested in how buildings and bridges behave under the extreme loading conditions generated by manmade and natural hazards such as seismic excitation, collision by heavy objects, and blast. The focus of his research effort is to investigate how to utilize new materials, concepts and technologies to create innovative structural systems that mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of extreme loading.

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