UC Davis shows off quake simulators

May 20, 2008 7:26:47 PM PDT
The massive quake in china is a reminder for all of us about preparing for the next big one here. Researchers at UC Davis invited reporters to see the new technology they're using to simulate and study earthquakes.

The technology displayed at the Earthquake Research Equipment show is state-of-the-art.

This centrifuge is the biggest in the country. Its 60 foot arm can spin a five ton payload at up to 75 times the force of gravity. It enables researchers to build scale models to test the shaking of earthquakes on soils and foundations. It was used to see how BART's transbay tube would fare in an earthquake.

"While the tube may move a little bit, it didn't move enough to be dangerous and that probably saved BART $30 million," says UC Davis engineer Lars Pedersen.

The apparatus on another truck was a shaking machine which measures how waves travel underground. You can see from a container of water just how powerful the simulation can be.

"Rather than going and looking at a single point, you can look at large areas in the ground and understand what's underneath there," says Daniel Wilson from the Center For Geotechnical Modeling.

Another machine can be mounted atop a building, bridge or dam. It will simulate shaking at a non-destructive level.

"We can then use a computer model to put a real earthquake in the structure and have a better understanding of what happened," Bob Nigbor, a UCLA earthquake researcher.

This simulated shaking put out 10,000 pounds of force onto this concrete and steel reaction block.

Researchers hope the knowledge they gather here will help minimize damage in a real quake.

Sadly, in many undeveloped and emerging nations, that simply isn't the case.

A staggering number of homes and buildings collapsed from china's 7.9 temblor . Researchers say this technology could have helped structural engineers design and build better facilities.

"It's not that we don't know how to build a safe structure, its just not economical to build a safe structure. And in those kind of situations, it's a difficult scenario we live in, but that's the real world," says one researcher we spoke to.

And in that real world, as long as there's shoddy construction, the life saving technology here will be meaningless.

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