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Students in Geological Disasters: Agents of Chaos recently built structures and put them through an earthquake simulation.

“The objective was to have students design a building to minimize damage from earthquakes,” says class instructor Larry Malinconico, associate professor and acting head of geology and environmental geosciences. “The buildings that suffer the most damage in earthquakes are the most rigid ones. You want a building that is strong but flexible.”

Malinconico cites the pyramid-shaped Trans American Building in San Francisco as an example of designing flexibility through minimizing mass in the top of a building.

The students used materials such as balsa wood, paper, string, and glue to build structures, which had to have a minimum square-inch equivalent floor area and at least three floors above the ground. The buildings were first tested for simple loading, which ensured that all the structures were able to sustain a certain weight. This procedure gave the students an opportunity to uncover the location of any weaknesses. Participants were given a week to make any necessary changes before earthquake simulation tests began.

The class accomplished earthquake simulation with a shaker table, the base of which sits in a track with wheels and is pushed back and forth by a motor to change amplitude and frequency. The students’ structures were placed on the shaker table and the magnitude of the simulated earthquakes increased until all structures were destroyed.

“Buildings must be built well with earthquakes in mind,” says Liz Cassidy ’05 of Norwalk, Conn. “There were a lot of measuring mistakes in the class, including our building. This project taught us to measure twice and cut once.” Her group’s structure survived a minimal earthquake.

“Professor Malinconico keeps the class alive,” notes Cassidy, who took the course to pursue a minor in geology and environmental geosciences, but now intends to major in it. She adds that she enjoyed watching the buildings come down.

Categorized in: Academic News