February 2001

From Washington University in St. Louis

Engineers form unique consortium for better undergraduate earthquake engineering

It doesn't take a catastrophe on the order of the Seattle or recent India earthquake for civil engineers to realize that earthquake-engineering studies need to be intensified. Washington University in St. Louis civil engineers are engaged in an effort to indoctrinate young earthquake engineers in hands-on research early in their undergraduate careers. To achieve this effect, Washington University engineers have joined forces with engineers at 22 other national institutions to form a unique consortium. It's called the University Consortium on Instructional Shake Tables (UCIST), and it's headquartered at Washington University. The National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education is funding the program. Shirley L. Dyke, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil engineering at Washington University, is the program director.

According to Dyke, the overall goal of the UCIST project is to develop a series of earthquake engineering experiments for integration into a civil engineering undergraduate curriculum. The centerpiece for each experiment is a portable, computer-controlled, bench-scale shake table, constructed to meet a set of specifications developed by the earthquake center investigators. The experiments will focus on the use of "hands-on" seismic simulation experiments which will offer students opportunities to operate the shake table, excite scaled models of various civil engineering structures such as buildings, bridges, towers and dams, with typical earthquake loads, learn basic concepts in structural dynamics, and use sensors to measure responses of the structures.

"One of the most important challenges facing civil engineers of today is minimizing the severe and tragic consequences of earthquakes," said Dyke. "Future civil engineers must have an understanding of the dynamic response of structures such as buildings, bridges, towers, and dams to ground motion. Currently few civil engineering students are exposed to structural dynamics at the undergraduate level. There is a need for integrating this important topic into the undergraduate curriculum. This program seeks to achieve this goal by introducing a series of experiments into the undergraduate curriculum."

Each of the participating universities has purchased this equipment and is developing an experiment. Each university will subsequently integrate three experiments into their undergraduate curriculum. Videos of the UCIST shake table in action are available at http://wusceel.cive.wustl.edu/ucist.

The program is a joint effort between a number of universities associated with the three national earthquake centers: Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER), Mid America Earthquake Center (MAE), Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER).

"We anticipate that this nationwide effort will result in widespread adoption of this approach throughout the civil engineering community," said Dyke.

Students are expected to develop an understanding and an intuition regarding the dynamic nature of structures. Theoretical concepts are reinforced through the use of "hands-on" laboratory experiments, and students have access to modern engineering tools including sensors, actuators, and data acquisition/analysis equipment.

Non-engineering students are exposed to the potential consequences of earthquakes and the dynamic behavior of civil engineering structures.

All students will learn of emerging technologies and modern methods in seismic resistant design and will improve their technical communication abilities through written reports and oral presentations.

"Our objectives will be achieved through the development of a series of illustrative structural dynamics experiments, and we’ll integrate these experiments into the undergraduate curriculum," said Dyke.

For instance, Dyke is working with civil engineering junior Tyler Ranf this school year on the implementation of the transfer Function Iteration Algorithm on the instructional shake table in Dyke’s laboratory. This work focuses on the development of a technique to simulate an earthquake accurately with the instructional shake tables. His project will be put on the web site to allow institutions across the country to use his program.

As a participant in last summer’s Research Experiences for Future Structural Engineers, Ranf worked with Kevin Z. Truman, Ph.D., professor and chair of civil engineering, and Phillip L. Gould, Ph.D., Harold D. Jolley Professor of Civil Engineering, on the probability and effects of liquefaction on locks near the New Madrid Fault. Ranf’s project resulted in a paper that he submitted to a national contest sponsored by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI). He won the contest and traveled to Monterey, Calif. to attend the EERI annual meeting and present the paper at the expense of EERI.

"We’re very proud of Tyler, and believe his kind of research experience is indicative of what we think will make outstanding future engineers," Dyke said.

Experiments are developed for undergraduate students at all levels and for non-engineering students such as architects and geoscientists, who will benefit from such exposure. Designers of each experiment will develop a laboratory manual containing plans for the test, specimens, relevant theory, experimental setup, required exercises, any in-house software designed for the experiment, and anticipated results for comparison.

Students are exposed to various experiments via video tapes made at the different institutions. For instance, freshman engineering students at one institution focusing on a building model can see a video containing a series of experiments on bridges, towers, and liquefaction. The final product will be a CD-ROM that will contain all laboratory manuals, photographs of the experiments, software, and video-clips. The CD will be made available to the academic community at production cost.

Additional activities include plans for developing two nationwide competitions in earthquake resistant design, one for undergraduates and one for elementary school children.

Dyke, Truman and Gould were instrumental in forming the consortium, which encompasses universities from all regions of the country. They outlined their plans and presented them at the June 2000 ASCE Annual Meeting in St. Louis.

Undergraduate research experiences challenge and motivate students, encouraging them to pursue graduate degrees," Dyke said. "Students will use the experimental facilities to complete individual research projects that contribute to the overall goals of the ongoing research programs within the centers."

This article comes from Science Blog. Copyright © 2004

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