UB Opens $21.2 Million Earthquake Engineering Simulation Facility

National Science Foundation facility will provide new advanced technology to test how very large structures behave during an earthquake

Release Date: September 24, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A new era in earthquake-engineering research was ushered in today with the grand opening of the National Science Foundation's George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) Facility within the University at Buffalo Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

The $21.2 million NEES facility is the largest investment in the National Science Foundation's $81.9 million project to improve understanding of earthquakes and their effects on buildings, bridges, roads, transportation systems and other infrastructure. The project is named in honor of the late California Congressman George E. Brown, Jr., former chairman of the House Science Committee and an advocate in Congress for engineering and science.

The NEES facility is a key node in a nationwide earthquake-engineering "collaboratory" -- a network of 15 state-of-the-art laboratories that will allow earthquake engineers and students at different institutions to share resources, collaborate on testing and exploit new computational technologies.

UB President John B. Simpson described the opening of the facility as "a momentous occasion indeed for our university, with truly earth-shaking implications for the field of earthquake engineering itself.

"UB has long had a national reputation -- and indeed, a global reputation -- as a major locus for research in earthquake engineering and structural dynamics, and the NEES simulation facility will firmly establish UB among the very top earthquake engineering institutions in the United States," Simpson added.

"Through its groundbreaking research, our earthquake engineering research center exemplifies one of the key strengths that define UB as a leading public research university -- our commitment to far-reaching, cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research that is deeply invested in bettering the communities we serve both locally and globally."

An opening ceremony for the NEES facility at UB was hosted by Simpson and Mark H. Karwan, dean of the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Other remarks were made by A. Galip Ulsoy, division director, Civil and Mechanical Systems, National Science Foundation. An archived Web broadcast of the ceremony can viewed at http://nees.buffalo.edu/.

As part of NEES, UB's Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL) underwent a $21.2 million equipment upgrade and expansion of the laboratory from 12,000 to 25,000 square feet. The NSF provided $11.2 million in funding, with $3.2 million coming from the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and $800,000 from its Department of Civil and Structural Engineering. The State University of New York provided $6 million from its construction fund for a new infrastructure to house the lab's new equipment within the expanded SEESL, located in Ketter Hall on UB's North (Amherst) Campus.

Among those underscoring the importance of the federal and state investments in the new facility was Sen. Mary Lou Rath of Williamsville, representing the Western New York delegation in the state Legislature.

"We all know the damage and devastation earthquakes can cause," Rath noted. "The new NEES facility will allow UB's earthquake engineers to better understand how to prevent such destruction. That research will help protect people and property in New York and across the United States."

Studies at the NEES facility will focus primarily on how very large structures behave during earthquakes, providing researchers with new advanced tools to generate new knowledge on how structures and foundations behave during earthquakes. Researchers also will study ways to make structures more resistant to terrorist attacks.

The centerpieces of the NEES facility are dual-movable, six-degree-of-freedom shake tables, made by MTS Systems Corp., which easily can be repositioned within the lab, for real-time seismic testing of structures up to 120 feet in length and 30 feet in height.

The shake tables' versatility will enable earthquake engineers to conduct real-time dynamic hybrid testing -- a form of testing being pioneered by UB researchers that sets new standards in earthquake-engineering research. Powered by Mathworks and UB software, it combines shake table testing of portions of a structure with real-time computer simulations of the remainder of the structure. It will provide researchers with a more complete picture of how powerful earthquakes affect very large structures, including bridges and buildings, without having to test an entire structure.

"In the 1970s, then-UB President Robert Ketter and George Lee, then dean of the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, had a vision to establish UB as the preeminent earthquake engineering leader in the world," Karwan noted. "In 1983, UB opened a world-class earthquake-engineering laboratory and by 1986 landed the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research from NSF, putting UB on the global map.

"After more then two decades of award-winning scholarship, applied research and countless trained engineers," he added, "the impact on society has been remarkable.

"With the opening of the new NEES facility, we again are world leaders in the infrastructure required to continue our training and research and development activities at the highest level. Our faculty are stronger then ever and ready to achieve great things leveraging this cutting-edge facility."

According to Andrei Reinhorn and Michel Bruneau, principal investigators for the NEES facility, it also is equipped with a significantly expanded strong floor and 3-story reaction wall; high-capacity dynamic and static actuators that can apply forces of up to 1,800 tons, and a large-scale geotechnical laminar box for simulating soil-structure interactions during earthquakes.

"The new facility enhances the capabilities of UB's 20-year-old SEESL laboratory, which provided, and will continue to provide, world leadership in advanced protection of bridges, buildings and their contents against severe hazards such as earthquakes, windstorms and man-made disasters," said Reinhorn, Clifford C. Furnas Professor of Structural Engineering at UB and director of SEESL.

"With the new equipment, the laboratory will be able to test large, complex assemblies with a combination of testing equipment and supercomputers to predict with high accuracy the effects of costly disasters and provide adequate protections against them."

The NEES facility is equipped with high-definition television and real-time, networked teleconferencing and telepresence technologies, and is linked by ultra-high-speed Internet connections to other NEES nodes nationwide.

"The synergistic efforts of leading experts working together within the framework of large, coordinated collaborative projects are necessary for research to deliver the advances in knowledge needed to substantially enhance the resilience of communities against earthquakes and other hazards," said Bruneau, UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering and director of the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), headquartered at UB.

"This new NEES facility allows us to complement our ongoing multidisciplinary collaborations with a large-scale networked laboratory modeled on that philosophy."

The NEES facility team consists of Reinhorn, principal investigator; Bruneau, senior co-principal investigator; Michael Constantinou, Andrew Whittaker and Theva Thevanayagam, co-principal investigators; Andre Filiatrault, technical advisor; Mettupalayam Sivaselvan, project engineer; Mark Pittman, lab manager; Jason Hanley, IT systems manager; Goran Josipovic, IT specialist, and Thomas Albrechcinski, project administrator.

UB has been an international leader in earthquake-engineering research for nearly three decades. In the 1970s, UB civil engineering faculty, recognizing the tremendous social and economic value of this type of research, began to build capabilities in structural dynamics and earthquake engineering. With funding from the State University of New York, UB in 1983 installed its first shake table -- the most versatile in the world at that time -- and established the Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL) inside Ketter Hall.

A $25 million grant from the National Science Foundation and additional SUNY funding in 1986 established at UB the nation's first National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, now known as the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER). A consortium of researchers from numerous disciplines and institutions throughout the U.S., MCEER, headquartered at UB, is a National Science Foundation "Center of Excellence" in earthquake engineering.

The Federal Highway Administration since 1992 has awarded MCEER grants totaling more than $24 million to study seismic hazards to highways and develop tools and technologies to reduce seismic vulnerability of highway infrastructure. In 1997, MCEER was awarded an unprecedented 10-year NSF grant renewal.

Over the years, SEESL and MCEER have served many institutions and communities throughout the U.S. and around the world in the development of seismic protective systems and improvement of seismic resilience.

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