New earthquake research facility to open on campus

Robyn Repya

Heaving dirt with a large shovel, University President Mark Yudof, along with a few regents and University faculty, broke ground Thursday on the University’s new $12 million earthquake research facility.

The facility, which will be located behind University Village, will test how structures hold up to natural disasters, explosions and other potentially damaging forces with the Multi-Axial Subassemblage Testing system.

The MAST system was funded by the National Science Foundation through a $6.5 million grant awarded to the University’s civil engineering department in February 2001.

The new building, which cost $5.5 million, was funded by the Institute of Technology Dean’s Office, the Office of the Vice President of Research and the department of civil engineering.

Catherine French, a civil engineering professor, was the leader of the team that submitted the proposal to the NSF.

French, who will be working in the building, said the large-scale loading capabilities and the degree to which loads and forces can be applied to the structure make the system unique in testing structural durability.

“You can command that structure to undergo a deformation in any direction,” French said.

She said the tests will help engineers design buildings that are better at sustaining large forces. The tests will also help engineers design ways to increase durability and control how a building falls during a disaster.

“You want to be able to design the structures to take the damage Ö but sustain failure, giving occupants time to get out before it collapses,” she said.

The facility’s research will also benefit those in transportation studies.

“We hope to use this facility for bridge research to improve transportation,” said Robert Johns, director of the Center for Transportation Studies.

“All structures have similar problems Ö hopefully this can be used for different applications,” he said.

Johns said the new facility is a great leadership opportunity for students working with the MAST system.

Ted Davis, dean of the Institute of Technology, said the new facility is a good opportunity for the University.

“This could have an impact on building design, bridge design and highway design,” he said.

The research facility will be connected digitally to similar test programs around the nation so researchers can trade information.

“We will become a repository of structural information that can be used around the world,” Davis said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for the University.”

Jerome Hajjar, a civil engineering professor who will work in the new facility, said the connection to other facilities will attract a lot of people to the University.

“Remote experimentalists and researchers can observe the experiments as they’re happening, while they’re sitting in another state in the country,” he said.

The facility is scheduled for completion by December but will not be operational until 2004.