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Rensselaer Alumni Magazine Winter 2005-06
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Feature Articles President's View At Rensselaer Class Notes Features Making a Difference Rensselaer Milestones Staying Connected In Memoriam
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What Lies Beneath
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Rensselaer campus regulars may not be aware of it, but earthquakes frequently surge through the basement of the J. Erik Jonsson Engineering Center. Producing a powerful shaking sensation, these seismic events have taken a considerable toll, leaving behind a trail of broken pipes, damaged pilings, and other serious structural problems.

Not to worry, though. These “earthquakes” are actually scale-model simulations, generated by civil engineers in Rensselaer’s recently redeveloped Geotechnical Centrifuge Center, part of the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), a nationwide academic research consortium. The tests often use Rensselaer’s centrifuge, an imposing device with a mechanical arm that can swing model structures around at 250 miles per hour, exerting forces real buildings would face only at catastrophic moments.

“We cannot wait 20 or 30 years for an earthquake to occur,” says Ricardo Dobry, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Geotechnical Centrifuge Center. “This allows us to test structures and full systems.” Recent catastrophic natural disasters — particularly the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami originating in Sumatra and the earthquake in Pakistan and India in October, which have killed tens of thousands — underscore the importance of research in these areas.

by Peter Dizikes :: Photo by Mark McCarty
Photo caption: Earthquake researchers (clockwise from top left) Rob McCaffrey, Steve Roecker, Tarek Abdoun, and Ricardo Dobry in Rensselaer’s 150 g-ton geotechnical centrifuge facility located in the basement of the Jonsson Engineering Center.
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