When the earth begins to shake, people may not worry about what happens to unattached structures such as boulders, large statues, or even computer servers. But Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Christine Wittich does. And with good reason.
Wittich says that while there are many models for how grounded structures – buildings, bridges, etc. – may react to an earthquake, there are few reliable models for structures not significantly attached to something else. So that’s her goal, and she and a team of students are using “shake tables” to simulate earthquakes and figure out how different materials and shapes react.
Imagine a giant bin or storage silo filled with grain. When the earth starts rocking, these can lift up and topple over, resulting in widespread damage. Or, consider culturally significant statues in a museum or historical site. If they fall and break, part of history goes with them. Wittich says if engineers could better understand and predict columns or structures that slide, rock or give way, based on a numerical model, that could make a difference.
Soon, Wittich will be working on a new, seven-foot shake table, offering a better range for larger items and simulated ground motions. Her research is just one way engineering at Nebraska helps save lives.
More about Shaking TablesLearn more about how shake tables work:
Did you know…The Engineering Earthquake Research Institute (EERI) holds an Undergraduate Seismic Design Competition each year, where student team create wooden structures and test them on shake tables. Nebraska teams have competed with the best: See how they prepared for the competition and lessons learned as engineers.
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