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Dobry believes information technology will change earthquake research profoundly, with remote sensors becoming an increasingly pervasive way of gathering data. Abdoun has developed a wireless sensor that can be lowered into the ground and has initiated a California-based project along with Caltrans, the state transit agency, taking real-time ground movement measurements near highways. Eventually, Dobry says, there will be “hundreds of thousands” of sensors in use, on the ground and in “the constructed environment buildings, bridges, pipes, structures. When an earthquake happens, we will get data from the real world.”
For now, the increasingly networked nature of engineering research compensates for what researchers have yet to learn. At Rensselaer they are participating in a novel computer-simulation project, testing a bridge with faculty at two other NEES universities. The bridge’s deck is being tested at Lehigh University, its piers at the University of Illinois, and the foundations at Rensselaer, with the results shared via the NEES supercomputer in San Diego.
Rensselaer researchers also are conducting NSF-funded tests jointly with engineers from Cornell of “critical lifelines” such as pipes during quakes. The Cornell researchers can produce ruptures on full-scale pipes in a large testing facility in Ithaca, but Rensselaer’s centrifuge, because of its smaller scale, can subject model pipes to a greater relative range of forces. The result is a combination of data otherwise unavailable to a single group of experts.
Beyond NEES, Rensselaer engineers are using their shake table to share test data with researchers in Japan, who use the world’s largest shake table in a warehouse-sized facility. And along with the flow of data comes a flow of people: Visiting researchers at the centrifuge this academic year will include two experts from the Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Korea.
This globalization of research seems a natural development in the study of a global phenomenon, with experts in geographically disparate regions, from Japan to Chile to Australia, and other earthquake-prone areas. Meanwhile, in Troy, where research rolls on, residents do not have to worry much about earthquakes even when they are in the Jonsson Engineering Center.
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