$10.5 Million from NSF, $6 Million SUNY Investment to Bolster UB Earthquake-Engineering Research

Research in one-of-a-kind facility will have worldwide impact

Release Date: February 3, 2001 This content is archived.


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UB has been awarded $16.5 million in federal and state funding to construct what will be the world's most versatile earthquake-engineering laboratory.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo's Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering has been awarded $16.5 million in federal and state funding to develop the world's most versatile earthquake engineering research facility designed to provide testing capabilities that will revolutionize the understanding of how even very large structures behave during earthquakes.

Featuring the only shake table in the world that can easily be repositioned, the new facility will be the only earthquake-engineering laboratory capable of conducting real-time seismic hybrid testing, a form of testing being pioneered by UB researchers that breaks new ground in earthquake-engineering research. In this type of testing, shake table experiments and computer simulations are combined in real-time to provide the most complete picture ever possible of how powerful earthquakes affect buildings, bridges and other structures.

The new facility will house twin shake tables capable of testing structures up to 120 feet in length.

Announced at a press conference today, the funding includes two grants from the National Science Foundation -- one for $4.38 million to construct a large-scale, high-performance testing facility and one for $6.16 million for construction of versatile, high-performance shake tables.

It also includes $6 million from the State University of New York construction fund for a new infrastructure to house the new equipment, which will include an addition to Ketter Hall on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

"We are pleased to provide $6 million in state support toward this exciting effort, which will further enhance the University at Buffalo's reputation as one of the nation's finest academic research institutions," said Gov. George E. Pataki.

"These funds will not only ensure that UB continues to lead the way in cutting-edge research and technological innovations, but will also help to save lives and protect property through the important earthquake engineering studies being conducted at the school. This is great news for UB, great news for our SUNY system and great news for the entire Buffalo region."

The expanded facility will make it possible for the first time for earthquake engineering researchers to obtain extremely accurate results on how very large structures will react to all kinds of seismic activity, even when tested to complete failure.

In announcing the NSF grants, Rep. Jack Quinn noted that "the University at Buffalo, through this state-of-the-art testing center, has an expanded opportunity to put its research and academics on the world stage.

"In light of last week's tragedy in India, the upgrade of UB's earthquake-engineering facility proves crucial. The center will help scientists better determine the effects on buildings of this devastating natural disaster."

UB President William R. Greiner called the funding "signal recognition of UB's leading role in the world's earthquake-engineering research efforts.

"This project is great news not only for UB, but for regions around the world that are prone to seismic activity," Greiner said. "The recent devastating earthquake in western India underscores society's need to find improved ways to construct buildings, bridges, and other structures that can better withstand the terrible force of earthquakes. The cutting-edge research that UB will be able to perform will yield very precise information on how large structures react to seismic activity, which, in turn, will save thousands of lives."

Greiner added: "We are very grateful to Congressman Quinn, the National Science Foundation, and the State University of New York for their outstanding support of this project, which will enhance UB's position as a national and international leader in the field of earthquake-engineering research."

Mark Karwan, dean of the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the new funding "is confirming testimony to the extraordinary achievements of our engineering faculty and staff in stewarding the previous 13 years of investment by the nation in UB's earthquake engineering capabilities.

"Once again, we have been chosen to lead the nation in cutting-edge infrastructure and research projects in this critical area," Karwan added. "This award will enhance our already strong transfer of technology to both New York State and national corporations to provide the capabilities required to protect our national infrastructure and facilitate economic growth."

The NSF grants to UB are a critical piece of the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), designated by Congress in honor of the late Congressman from California in recognition of his long-standing interest and efforts in mitigating damage from earthquakes, a move that observers say gives this program high-visibility in Congress on a par with the Polar Research Station.

NEES is an $81.9 million NSF special project designed to usher in a new era in earthquake engineering research in the U.S.

According to NSF, this network will act as a catalyst to "transform earthquake-engineering research from its current reliance on physical experiments to investigations based on integrated models, databases and model-based simulation." By installing new technological infrastructure, NEES will make it possible for engineers at UB and elsewhere to more quickly translate research findings into technologies that can make structures safer during earthquakes.

UB's Structural Earthquake Engineering Systems Laboratory (SEESL), which is the flagship laboratory in the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), will be a key piece of a nationwide "collaboratory" developed by NEES in which earthquake engineers located at different institutions will be able to share resources, work together on testing and exploit new computational technologies such as supercomputers.

"We are going to make a smart installation," said Andrei Reinhorn, Ph.D., professor in the UB Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and a senior co-principal investigator. "This new facility will allow us to test on the shake tables real pieces of a structure, while computers will at the same time simulate its missing parts. And we can do this while applying forces rapidly with real-time vibrations."

The funding will support a quadrupling of the SEESL in Ketter Hall from approximately 3,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet, as well as the addition of new capabilities, which will include:

• A new shake table situated on a track that can be rapidly re-positioned to be immediately next to the existing shake table, or as far as 120 feet away

• An upgrade of the existing shake table so that it will move in six different directions

• New dynamic and static actuators that provide a total capacity of 1.7 million pounds of force and major power capacity to conduct high-speed, high-load dynamic testing

• High-definition television equipment to instantly transmit to other engineering laboratories both physical and computational results of UB tests for a fully integrated collaboratory

According to Michel Bruneau, Ph.D., UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, project director and co-principal investigator, these new capabilities will allow UB engineers to conduct unprecedented research, the ultimate benefit of which will be new technologies that can better protect people and property from the kind of devastation wrought by major earthquakes, such as the one that occurred in India on Jan. 26.

Since new earthquake mitigation technologies developed in the U.S. typically are adopted worldwide, he said that the benefits of the research that will be conducted at UB will have an international impact.

In particular, the new facility will offer engineers the first opportunity to test full-size structures in real time.

"You cannot bring a skyscraper into a laboratory," said Reinhorn. "But with this new facility and new technology, we will be able to obtain extremely accurate information on how real structures behave during earthquakes, without having to make the extraordinary expenditures of resources that would be required to build facilities huge enough to test whole buildings."

According to Bruneau, the facility's two shake tables provide another unprecedented opportunity for researchers.

"The advantage of having two shake tables is that now we can move both tables in different phases," he explained. "That means we can very realistically simulate earthquake waves as they travel, for example, from one bridge pier to another."

Construction of the new UB facility, scheduled for completion in 2004 under the guidance of Michael C. Constantinou, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UB Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and co-principal investigator, will be an engineering feat in itself. It will require, among other things, the excavation of a trench and track along which the new table will be able to move, and the installation of actuators to mimic earthquake forces on structures, which altogether will be able to push almost 2 million pounds of force. The work will be done by contractors with significant participation of faculty and students in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

Computations, networking and simulation aspects will be provided through UB's own resources, such as the Center for Computational Research, or one of the other institutions in the NEES collaboratory.

Bruneau, the lead project director and co-principal investigator, also is deputy director at MCEER. In addition to Reinhorn and Constantinou, the other co-principal investigators are Eddy Rojas, assistant professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, and Sabanayagam Thevanayagam, associate professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering. A team of five other faculty members in the department and the current manager of the Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL) also are associated with the present project.

More details on the proposals and personnel are available at http://civil.eng.buffalo.edu/seesl/.

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