Showcase lab tests structural stress of temblors | NevadaAppeal.com

Showcase lab tests structural stress of temblors

TOM GARDNER Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Surrounded by buckled steel girders and cracked concrete columns, two powerful machines simulate the havoc of an earthquake.

The state-of-the-art research taking place on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, is designed to help scientists make buildings and bridges more resistant to temblors – and to save lives.

The just-expanded James E. Rogers and Louis Wiener Jr. Large Scale Structures Laboratory puts Nevada in the forefront of research into ways to avoid the widespread destruction of a major quake.

”Having that capability makes this place a very unique facility,” said Ian Buckle, director of the Center for Civil Engineering Earthquake Research.

”If we can simulate an earthquake in a laboratory under our conditions on our time scale, we can make progress much faster.”

Nevada is the third most seismically active state in the nation, behind California and Alaska, according to UNR seismology Professor James N. Brune. But since Nevada’s quakes are widely scattered throughout the vast state, he said its residents are one-tenth as likely to experience a temblor as people concentrated in metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area.

”It’s a very valuable concept not only to this state but all over the West and the world,” said Rogers, whose contribution helped fund the lab’s expansion.

The lab is conducting highway research for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

It also has a five-year contract with the California Department of Transportation to determine how to prevent earthquake damage to bridges around San Francisco. Other deals are in place and still more are in the works as a result of the expansion.

One experiment is testing different types of bridge columns to find one which seems least likely to fail in an earthquake. Another seeks ways to keep girder welds from cracking under stress.

”It is unique in its capabilities to simulate earthquakes,” Engineering College Dean Ted E. Batchman said at Tuesday’s dedication to mark the $1.5 million expansion.

The 2,800-foot addition brings the lab’s size to 8,400 square feet, making it the second-largest such lab in the nation behind one at the University of California at San Diego, which is about twice as big, Buckle said.

The quake facility, half the size of a football field, uses hydraulic power to simulate the destructive ground movement of a major quake.

The quake center uses two 14-foot-square tables that can shake 100 tons of simulated bridge or building sections sideways and back and forth, duplicating the destructive forces of a real temblor.

Another addition and a third shake table already are in the works just eight years after the original building here was completed.

The sophisticated lab lured Buckle, the expert in seismic engineering design, to University of Nevada, Reno, last year from his post as deputy vice chancellor of research in Aukland, New Zealand.

UNR President Joe Crowley said the quake center has elevated the school into the higher reaches of research that will make it more appealing to people such as Buckle and to the students – and research dollars – universities must attract.

The shake tables were purchased with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, but the 2,800-square-foot expansion to accommodate the second table was provided by a combination of state, university and private funds.

Rogers, president and chief executive officer of Sunbelt Communications, provided $750,000 to match the $400,000 provided by the Legislature and the $350,000 put up by UNR.

The center shares his name and that of Wiener, his late law partner and fellow pioneer broadcaster.

”He was my friend for 40 years, my mentor for 30 years and my partner for 20 years,” he said in explaining why he wanted Wiener to share in the building’s name four years after his death.