BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Structural engineers at the University at
Buffalo are conducting some of the most comprehensive experiments
ever attempted to develop methods of evaluating and designing steel
buildings so that they will be less vulnerable to collapse during
The experiments are part of a project aimed at both designing
new structures that can withstand large deformations without
collapsing and at evaluating existing buildings to determine where
retrofits may be necessary.
The gap in information about how structures collapse became
painfully clear last month after the 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan,
China, when the tragic collapse of numerous schools throughout the
province caused the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren, the UB
"The whole idea of this project is to find out how much damage a
particular building can take before it collapses," said Gilberto
Mosqueda, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UB Department of Civil,
Structural and Environmental Engineering and principal investigator
on the research.
He explained that the philosophy behind building codes is that
while buildings may sustain damage in a strong earthquake, they
should do so in such a way that the damage can be absorbed by the
structure without collapsing so that people can safely
"But many different factors besides design come into play, such
as the quality of construction, the known seismicity of an area and
the magnitude of an event," he continued.
"The problem from the structural side is that there is very
little experimental data available to verify our models or
assumptions on the nature of how structures collapse because these
experiments are very difficult to do in a laboratory," he said.
Mosqueda said that the shake table facility in Miki City, Japan
-- the world's largest -- is the only one in the world capable of
subjecting full-scale structures to simulated ground motions that
can trigger a collapse. Those experiments tend to be expensive in
terms of cost, time and labor.
For that reason, Mosqueda has geared his research toward
developing more realistic, reliable and economical ways of testing
large-scale structures. To do this, his project will combine
laboratory experiments of partial structures that can capture the
initiation of a collapse either in slow-motion or in real-time with
numerical simulations of the remaining full-scale building. This
hybrid numerical and experimental model will then be subjected to
In order to simulate the earthquake loads, the experimental
portion of the research will employ high-performance hydraulic
actuators that will push and pull elements of the partial structure
plus or minus 20 inches at forces of up to 220,000 pounds.
Experiments will be performed in UB's Structural Engineering and
Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL) in the School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences.
"Through these experiments, we will be able to capture the
interaction between a building's elements, such as columns, beams
and floor slabs during strong ground motions," Mosqueda said.
Some of those experiments will be conducted over the Internet,
with pieces of the same structure simultaneously being tested at UB
and Kyoto University, Japan, while numerical simulations will
produce data on how the entire structure would perform under the
same conditions. These "distributed hybrid tests," as they are
called, are made possible by international collaborators and the
National Science Foundation's George E. Brown Jr. Network for
Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) Facility, a nationwide
earthquake-engineering "collaboratory" of which UB is a key
Mosqueda's project is the result of a prestigious $400,000
Faculty Early Career Development Award he received from the NSF to
develop a "Hybrid Simulation Platform for Seismic Performance
Evaluation of Structures Through Collapse." According to the NSF,
the CAREER program recognizes and supports the early
career-development activities of teacher-scholars "who are most
likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century."
The NSF funding also supports collaboration with local school
districts and the UB Graduate School of Education aimed at
introducing high school teachers and their students to the
engineering design process through an integrated curriculum that
includes design, computer simulation, construction and physical
testing. This work was originally supported by a grant from the UB
Office of the Vice President for Research.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.