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A prestigious, $400,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for outstanding junior faculty is enabling Gilbert Mosqueda to pioneer methods employing hybrid simulation—his specialty—to understand how structures collapse during powerful earthquakes.
Traditional testing that uses shake tables to simulate seismic activity on reduced-scale models of large buildings can generate inaccurate findings, since smaller structures may fail differently than their full-scale counterparts. Mosqueda’s approach provides an alternative, with researchers shaking a piece of a full-scale structure—the first floor of a multi-story building, for instance—and using theoretical, numerical models to simulate how that part would interact with the rest of the structure. The method paves the way for more accurate, cost-effective simulations that will allow researchers to probe the nature of structural collapse and how to mitigate it.
Mosqueda is collaborating with scientists at Stanford University, Kyoto University in Japan, the Institute of Engineering Mechanics in Beijing and the NSF George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, a nationwide earthquake-engineering consortium in which UB plays a key role.
Research by Mosqueda, an assistant professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, is enhancing UB’s expertise in mitigation of and response to extreme events, a research strength that the university is growing as part of its UB 2020 long-range strategic plan.
Another NSF-funded project led by Mosqueda involved designing and building UB’s Nonstructural Components Simulator, a one-of-a-kind apparatus that tests the effects of vibrations on nonstructural elements of buildings, such as mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; ceilings; nonstructural walls; and equipment and furniture.
More than 100 earthquake engineers and industry stakeholders from across the United States attended the machine’s inaugural demonstration in 2007, which reproduced earthquake vibrations on a two-story, life-sized replica of a fully equipped hospital room. Now Mosqueda is co-investigator on a $3.6 million study that will use the components simulator to examine the seismic performance of nonstructural systems.
Mosqueda also is making important contributions through fieldwork. He visited Chile in March 2010 to survey damage after a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck the region. As part of a national team the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute organized with funding from the NSF, Mosqueda examined nonstructural systems.
“Buildings that do not sustain any structural damage may lose functionality because, for example, a sprinkler pipe broke and caused water damage,” Mosqueda says. “This was the case in many hospitals we visited—cracks in masonry partition walls, dropped ceiling tiles and fractured water lines resulted in their closings.”
In 2005, he led teams to the Gulf Coast to assess damage from Hurricane Katrina. For Mosqueda, investigating extreme events is about making a difference—about using knowledge gained through studying past and simulated disasters to build structures that are more able to withstand future extreme events.
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