Shaking Things Up!

August 19, 2013

Last Friday in a laboratory at the University at Buffalo, Johns Hopkins structural engineers subjected a two-story building made of cold-formed steel to a Southern California-level earthquake they created by massive moving platforms and equipped with an array of sensors and cameras. Their goal? Safer, sturdier and more sustainable buildings that can withstand natural disasters such as the catastrophic 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, which claimed dozens of lives and cost billions of dollars in damage.

Ben Schafer, professor and chair of civil engineering and lead researcher on the $1 million, three-year National Science Foundation-funded project, was thrilled with the results.

“The building’s performance was far better than we had even hoped,” he said, shortly after Friday’s big shake. “Most of the damage seems cosmetic, such as cracks near windows and doors. This building would have been fine in Northridge.” The team will be conducting a building “autopsy,” deconstructing the entire structure down to the last screw and nail, this week, and final analysis of data will take several months.

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