New network connects earthquake research sites nationwide

The network virtually connects 15 institutions that simulate earthquakes nationwide.

Mehgan Lee

A new network will allow faculty and students at the University’s MAST Laboratory to cross four time zones and visit nine states without ever leaving their research facility.

The George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation virtually connects 15 institutions nationwide that simulate and study the effects of earthquakes and other extreme events.

“Today is a very special day, not just for those who live on the San Andreas Fault somewhere on the West Coast, but for everyone who lives under the threat of earthquakes,” said Ian Buckle, the network’s president, said.

The network, partially funded with an $82 million grant from the National Science Foundation, creates one integrated online laboratory, said John Brighton, the foundation’s assistant director for engineering.

“Just as you’re able to plug in your toaster from anywhere on the national power grid, so too can researchers plug into the (network) grid from virtually any location to design and carry out their experiments,” Brighton said.

The network celebrated its grand opening Monday via a live national webcast. Although technological difficulties caused frequent disruptions, a dozen faculty, staff and students participated in the event at the MAST Laboratory.

“We’re excited to be a part of the network,” Catherine French, a MAST Laboratory researcher and civil engineering professor, said. “It offers a lot of both research and educational opportunities and a lot of possibilities for collaborative research with colleagues from around the country and around the world.”

Beth Brueggen, a civil engineering graduate student, said the network provides the MAST Laboratory with capabilities it could not have on its own.

“It gives us an opportunity to do testing on a scale we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” she said.

The new network consists of different types of earthquake testing sites. The structural sites, including the MAST Laboratory, apply loads of pressure to buildings and bridges to see how much force they can withstand during extreme events. Some sites have giant platforms, known as “shake tables,” which rock structures back and forth. Lifeline facility sites assess how well below- and above-ground pipelines resist earthquakes.

The network also has a site with a 160-foot long, 87-foot wide wave tank. The wave tank site, located at Oregon State University, simulates tsunamis.

Rumors persist that graduate students use the wave tank site for surfboarding in their free time, graduate students at the webcast said.