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Feature - New organization shakes up earthquake consortium

Feature - New organization shakes up earthquake consortium

Earthquake engineers at University of Nevada, Reno test a 110-ft bridge model to failure.
Image courtesy of Joan Dixon/University of Nevada, Reno.

We cannot stop earthquakes and tsunamis from happening. But with well-engineered buildings, we can prevent some of the death and damage these natural disasters leave in their wake.

First, however, engineers must understand how buildings react when shaken by earthquakes or pummeled by tsunami waves. To accomplish that goal, researchers use a combination of specialized equipment: giant tables that shake, wave tables filled with water, and high-end computing resources that can simulate just about anything.

To find out how sound a building will be during an earthquake, researchers can build a model on top of a large shake table. But most of the shake tables in the United States are not large enough to accommodate an entire building. Instead, they accommodate individual building components such as a column or wall.

That's where the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) comes in. NEES is a network of 14 earthquake and tsunami engineering research facilities committed to sharing resources. To simulate how an entire bridge will behave in an earthquake, NEES researchers can run what are called hybrid simulations.

"They'll test a column at one end of a bridge on a table in Lehigh, and they'll test the column at the other end of the bridge at another location. What happens in the middle is completely simulated in software," explained Barbara Fossum, co-principal investigator for NEES' new Community and Communications Center (NEEScomm). "They simulate the movement based on what a happens with the physical things, so it's a simulation that's tied to real things on each end."

Although a single shake test often lasts less than a minute, hybrid simulations require huge amounts of computational power. Partnerships with resource providers such as Open Science Grid will meet that need, said Fossum.

For NEES, however, cyberinfrastructure is about much more than computational power. The newly-minted NEEScomm is charged with strengthening ties between NEES members, providing member sites with effective cyberinfrastructure, and engaging with the public in educational outreach activities.

This Lehigh University facility is equipped for multi-directional real-time seismic testing, combined with real-time analytical simulations. This facility is also designed to support the development of new hybrid testing methods for real-time multi-directional (RTMD) testing of large-scale structures, including multi-substructures, where the substructures involved are at different geographic locations connected by the NEES network.
Image courtesy of Lehigh University and NEES.

Earlier this month, representatives from the National Science Foundation and all 14 NEES sites gathered at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, for a kick-off meeting at which NEEScomm presented its vision for the network. "I think that everyone was very pleased, and I've had very positive responses from all the sites," Fossum said. "This is a team that's very interested in hearing what the community and sites want, what the sites need, and building a consensus with them rather than imposing change from the top down."

One way NEEScomm plans to give members voice is through an online NEES hub based on Purdue's HUBzero platform; the NEES hub will probably take its first few test users in February or March of 2010, Fossum said.

"One of the biggest advantages of the HUBzero platform is that users are allowed to publish their own tools," explained Fossum. "By using the Web 2.0 tools they can get much better feedback. On the basis of that we hope to build consensus about what are the best tools out there, what they want to see us support, or what direction they want us to go in."

NEEScomm will officially take charge of NEES on 1 October, thanks to a $105 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

-Miriam Boon, iSGTW

Watch some NEES videos to learn more!
Learn more about NEES in about five minutes.

Video courtesy of NEESit.

MISST, or the multi-site soil-structure-foundation interaction test, is an example of hybrid testing/simulation. This particular test was conducted jointly between Lehigh University and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with the motions between the two pillars simulated in real-time by computer resources.

Video courtesy of NEESit.

Watch the MISST test again from a different angle.

Video courtesy of NEESit.

Over 600 sensors recorded the motions of this seven-story building model during a shake test at University of California, San Diego. San Diego Supercomputer Center experts used the data to create this simulation. Engineers can use the simulation to view the test from any distance and at any angle.

Video courtesy of NEESit.

Television coverage by WAND TV of the NEESGrid MOST Experiment. The experiment was performed 30 July 2003 at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Colorado Boulder.

Video courtesy of NEESit.

A 25-minute video about NEES. Please note that there are now 14 NEES centers, not 15 as the video states. Also, note that NEEScomm will replace NEES Inc. come 1 October.

Video courtesy of UC Television and NEESit.

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