Building Shaker Quake Machine

How will a tall building react to earthquake-like stresses? Computer modeling has helped until now. However, there is nothing like a good, real-world test. Engineers from the San Diego Supercomputer Center have combined the best of both worlds by putting up a full-size 275 ton building on a shake table.


(The real-world building)

Not just any shake table - the world's largest outdoor Large High Performance (LHP) shake table developed for the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) project.

The building was equipped with hundreds of sensors to yield precision data on how the building flexed during simulated quakes. It turned out that listening to audio and sensor data provided the key to comparing the film footage of the real building, and the pictures of the simulated building structure.

"By recreating the shake table experiment in movies in a virtual environment based on the observed data, this lets engineers explore all the way from viewing the 'big picture' of the entire building from a 360-degree viewpoint to zooming in close to see what happened to a specific support," said SDSC visualization scientist Amit Chourasia. "Integrating these disparate data elements into a visual model can lead to critical new insights."


(The computer model of the building under stress)

The simulations show how the specific parts of the building are moving. Comparing the real-world data with the computer model helps them improve their model; this improves the accuracy of the model when simulating the effects of stronger quakes.

Is it possible to build a structure that moves and adjusts to quake-induced stresses, one that intelligently analyzes the movements and counteracts them? Not yet. But in the imagination of Vernor Vinge, author of Rainbows End, an excellent 2006 novel, there is a way - he calls it house-of-cards construction:

You could feel the wall sway gently back and forth as the building kept its balance. That sort of thing made his ma real nervous. "One second of system failure and everything will fall apart!" she had complained...
(Read more about house-of-cards construction)

Read about a new technique that might be a first step to a real-world self-healing house. Find out more about the shake table experiments here and here.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/17/2007)

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