Earthquake engineers make national, worldwide headlines

9/15/2009 - By: John Trent

September has been a good news month for faculty members in the College of Engineering.

In the Sept. 10 issue of The Economist magazine, M. Saiid Saiidi, professor of civil and environmental engineering, shared his findings regarding keeping damaged bridges working. The Economist writes of Saiidi, “He proposes to make the parts most likely to fall out of a substance called shape-memory alloy, which can ‘remember’ what it is supposed to look like even after it has been twisted drastically out of kilter.”

The article goes on to explain that Saiidi “gained his crucial insight by jostling models of bridges on a specially built ‘shake table.’ He found that, rather than failing simultaneously, bridge components tend to break in a predictable order, and that the failure of one triggers the failure of the next. So, he reasoned, if the pieces that break first can be protected, the rest should never fail.”

Saiidi’s memory alloys are made of nickel-titanium and are very elastic, and can handle much more distortion than steel components. The article says that Saiidi “… proposes to replace the concrete in the area around those metal components with what is known as an ‘engineered cementitious composite.’ This is a substance that is reinforced with short polymer fibres. These give it flexibility, so it does not crack as readily as ordinary cement. The result should be a bridge that can deform in an earthquake without snapping, but which returns, more or less, to its original shape when the quake is over.”

The University’s expertise in earthquake engineering was also at the forefront of a Purdue University announcement on Sept. 10. Purdue’s $105 million grant from the National Science Foundation will create a new center for earthquake engineering that will manage 14 earthquake engineering facilities and allow researchers to easily share data and conduct experiments remotely. The University of Nevada, Reno has long been one of the key partners in the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), a nationwide consortium that is helping researchers throughout the country and the world design buildings, bridges and other structures that are less susceptible to earthquake damage.


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