Research at Nevada’s world-class earthquake facility improves structures, saves lives
By Mikalee Byerman, special to the RGJ
NCET explores Northern Nevada’s innovative technologies.
While earthquakes of incomprehensible magnitudes — 7s, 8s, and above on the Richter scale — happen only periodically in history, they occur with relative frequency on campus at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Or, at least, simulations of such earthquakes occur. They’re happening in the Nevada Earthquake Engineering Laboratory, which houses the largest shake table array in the United States.
In fact, when combined with the University’s Large-Scale Structures Laboratory, the facility comprises the biggest, most versatile large-scale structures, earthquake/seismic engineering facility in the country, according to National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“Each of the four shake tables can carry a 50-ton payload, making it possible to carry out experiments on large-scale buildings and bridges to make them safer and remain useable following a strong earthquake,” said Ian Buckle, Professor and Director of Nevada’s Center for Civil Engineering Earthquake Research. “In many cases, new construction technologies are developed involving smart materials and devices that greatly improve the resilience of our community to earthquakes.”
The laboratory is a new, 44,000-square-foot facility completed in June, 2014. The $19 million lab expansion project was funded with $12.2 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, funds from the Department of Energy, as well as University and donor funds.
One recent experiment in the lab exposed a concrete bridge to large ground motions similar to those recorded in the deadly 1995 magnitude 6.9 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.
Another tested how a curved bridge, loaded with Ford pickup trucks, stood up to forces from an earthquake 50 percent larger than the deadly 1994 Northridge, Calif. earthquake.
“High-caliber students and scholars come from around the world to study in this world-class facility, because it is one of a kind,” Buckle said. “Its national and international ranking also attracts and helps retain first-class faculty to teach and conduct research in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of the College of Engineering.”
The College of Engineering employs 120 faculty in support of a student enrollment of approximately 2,400, with 440 students in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. It is the home department of the Earthquake Engineering Program, which is one of five departments in the College. Thirty graduate students are studying Earthquake Engineering.
“The College of Engineering provides an environment that encourages creative thinking, freedom to pursue new ideas and seed-funding opportunities,” Buckle said. “The earthquake engineering program has been able to build on this foundation and attract substantial external support from federal and state agencies to advance the state-of-the-art research. This technology is important, for it not only save lives, but also protects businesses, schools, and homes from devastating socio-economic losses.”
Learn more about the University of Nevada, Reno’s Earthquake Engineering Laboratory at NCET’s Tech Wednesday, July 8. NCET is a member-supported nonprofit producing events to help individuals and businesses explore and use technology.
Mikalee Byerman is a Certified Facebook Nerd, Director of Audience Engagement for the Estipona Group and is NCET’s VP of Communications. This column first appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal – RGJ.com