Monday, 16 April 2012 12:22
April 16, 2012
Engineers in California are working to develop buildings capable of withstanding earthquakes in an altogether new manner.
Innovation in Structural Engineering
Engineers have long worked to design buildings and bridges that would be unaffected by strong earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters. In the past, researchers have employed a number of techniques to ensure buildings could effectively withstand the impact of such unforeseen events, but researchers at the University of California at San Diego are endeavoring to gain insight into how, exactly, earthquakes affect such structures.
In an effort to further their understanding, scientists at UC San Diego are leading an ambitious project in which they will violently shake a five-story building that has been equipped with hundreds of cameras and sensors. According to UC San Diego engineers, the test will help researchers more thoroughly understand how earthquakes impact a building's underlying structural blueprint.
Designing the Experiment
To develop the test, UC San Diego's School of Engineering constructed what serves as the largest shake table in the U.S. The massive structure was crafted particularly for such kinds of experiments, according to school officials, and it is already helping spur a new wave of engineering research and development at the academic hub.
On Tuesday, researchers will place the 1.4-million-pound building on the shake table, with scientists running the event noting they hope to identify the weakest and strongest parts of the specially designed building.
"What we are doing is the equivalent of giving this whole building an EKG to see how it performs after an earthquake and a fire," according to Tara Hutchinson, an engineer at UC San Diego who is leading the project.
The research project carries a hefty price tag, but the school noted the National Science Foundation and scores of industry partners contributed more than $5 million to support the initiative. Hutchinson said the test would mimic the effects of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake that struck parts of Southern California, including Northridge and Los Angeles, in 1994.
That earthquake caused more than $20 billion in damage, and the government – along with myriad private companies – is hoping to develop a more effective way to engineer buildings so they can withstand such strong quakes. Japanese researchers have long been at the forefront of the development of earthquake-resistant structures, and the U.S. has more and more taken a leading role in the increasingly important engineering discipline, according to Hutchinson.
Aside from using the shake table this week, UC San Diego researchers said they are planning on staging additional experiments over the coming months. Hutchinson said that the school plans to use the device to replicate the force of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile in 2010, and the 8.0-magnitude quake that rattled Peru in 2007.
Aside from furthering their understanding of how buildings and other important structures respond to strong quake activity, scientists said they are hoping the shake table will also help illustrate how earthquakes impact a number of other kinds of systems. For example, Hutchinson said that engineers at the school plan to study how quakes affect hospitals and computer systems that emergency personnel use during crises.