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Large earthquake simulated on two-story building to test nonstructural systems

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April 26, 2013 |

RENO, Nev. – The grinding, creaking, popping sounds were drowned out by the loud booms of the two-story building being hit by an earthquake – a simulated earthquake in the University of Nevada, Reno’s world-renowned earthquake engineering laboratory.

Ceiling tiles fell, water pipes and partition walls rattled and the contents of an office were a jumbled mess after researchers set in motion the final highest amplitude tests in the six-year long, multi-institutional research project that is testing the nonstructural elements in buildings, something never before done in this scale.

The experiment has attracted worldwide attention, and a delegation of professors and engineers from Japan travelled to the campus to watch the final tests in the experiment. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval was also on hand to watch the action.

“This is impressive work,” Governor Sandoval said following the tests. “We should all be proud of the University, and the College of Engineering, for the world-class research they do here. This lab alone has brought $45 million in research to Nevada, which is great for economic development.”

The two-story building with a fully equipped office was built atop three 50-ton capacity, 14-foot-square computer-controlled, hydraulically driven test tables that simulate the earthquake with as much as eight inches of displacement and forces almost twice that of gravity.

The purpose of the project is to quantify how the nonstructural systems in buildings fare in strong earthquakes, something that has never before been quantified in this scale.

“Nearly 85 percent of costs associated with building damage in earthquakes is damage to the non-structural systems – pipes, partitions and ceilings,” said Manos Maragakis, principal investigator of the research project and dean of the University’s College of Engineering. “We’ve come a long way to protect the structures, which can withstand earthquakes well, but the damage to contents and nonstructural systems many times makes the buildings unusable for weeks or months following an earthquake.”

The important information gained from the research will be used by engineers around the world to further study and design systems to survive large earthquakes, thus protecting occupants, allowing buildings to be used soon after earthquakes and lessening the costs associated with rebuilding.

The groundbreaking experiment is part of a nationally competitive project funded by the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation Research program of the National Science Foundation. The project, under the direction of Maragakis, involves participation of researchers and practicing engineers from around the country.

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Mike Wolterbeek

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