December 10, 2002

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NSF-Funded Research Facility Receives Start-Up Support from Southern California Companies

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The Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) will build the world’s first outdoor shake table for testing full-scale buildings and structures through a new $5.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition, State, university and private contributors will support the construction and start-up of the $10.9 million facility. At 25 ft by 40 ft., it will be the largest shake table in the United States and will be able to handle structures weighing up to 2,200 tons and buildings as tall as 60 feet. With its powerful hydraulic actuators capable of shaking at speeds up to 6 ft. per second, researchers will be able to produce accurate near-fault ground motions, creating realistic simulations of the most devastating earthquakes ever recorded. The Large High Performance (LHP) Outdoor Shake Table will also be the first facility equipped for large-scale testing of soil-foundation-structure interactions.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held today for the facility, which will be constructed at UCSD’s field station at Camp Elliott, located on Miramar Rd. at I-15, eight miles east of the UCSD campus. The shake table and related facilities will be fully operational by October 2004.

“This new outdoor laboratory will seal UCSD’s position as the innovation leader in structural testing for earthquake hazard mitigation,” said Frieder Seible, principal investigator on the project and Interim Dean of the Jacobs School. “Because there is no roof over the shake table, we will be able to use tall cranes and heavy equipment to construct and test full-scale buildings and structures, something that has not been possible before. We can now physically validate many construction systems that have previously only been analyzed through computer models.”

Researchers with the UCSD Department of Structural Engineering will use the shake table to conduct seismic experiments on multi-story buildings, bridge columns and bents, wharfs and piers, and lifeline structures such as electrical sub-stations. For example, the shake table will be used to validate the seismic safety of storage casks for spent nuclear fuel rods. During an earthquake, these containers could move, lift up, and bang against each other. Analytical models have shown that the containers would not crack under earthquake loads. However, because the containers are so heavy and so big, there has previously been no shake table in the U.S. capable of testing how the actual performance casks in an earthquake.

The construction of the shake table is being supported primarily by the NSF’s George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) NEES is providing $82 million to construct or enhance research facilities at more than 15 U.S. universities, transforming the nation’s ability to carry out earthquake engineering research. The goal of the program is to reduce vulnerability to catastrophic earthquakes and to educate new generations of engineers, scientists and other specialists committed to improving seismic safety.

The shake table will be adjacent to the Soil Foundation-Structure Interaction (SFSI) Facility funded by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Taken together, the shake table and SFSI will allow for one-of-a-kind testing of structural systems such as bridge abutments, embankments and foundations.

“Caltrans is in the midst of a comprehensive seismic retrofit program of the more than 25,000 bridges in California. Systems evaluations of bridges to date show we need to gain a better understanding of soil-foundation-structure interaction during earthquakes and as bridges sustain wear and tear over time,” said Scott Ashford, professor of structural engineering and associate director of the Powell Laboratories. “We will be able to conduct these kinds of studies for the first time at the field station at Camp Elliott.”

In addition, start-up and equipment enhancements are being funded through private support from leading industry associations and Southern California engineering firms, developers and contractors. To date, $525,000 in matching funds have been provided by 21 companies including: Brandow and Johnston Associates, Burkett and Wong Engineers, Clark Pacific, Dywidag-Systems International, USA, Inc., Englekirk Systems Development, Englekirk and Sabol Consulting Structural Engineers, Inc., Gordon Forward, Hope Engineering, Inc., Hanson Spancrete Pacific Inc., John A. Martin and Associates, KPFF Consulting Engineers, Matt Construction Corporation, Morley Builders, Nabih Youssef and Associates, Pacific Southwest Structures, PCL Construction Services, Inc., Precast/Prestressed Concrete Manufacturers Association of California (PCMAC), SEAOSC (Structural Engineering Association of Southern California), Simon Wong Engineering, Stedman & Dyson Structural Engineers, and The Pankow Builders, Ltd.

The LHP Outdoor Shake Table will join the NEES equipment sites to provide an unprecedented, networked infrastructure for earthquake engineering research and education. Engineers from across the country will be able to remotely observe, and even participate in, LHP Shake Table experiments. As a first step, the site is now connected to the NSF-funded High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network, which is operated by UCSD’s San Diego Supercomputer Center.

The field station at Camp Elliott is an extension of the Charles Lee Powell Structural Research Laboratories operated by the UCSD Jacobs School’s Department of Structural Engineering. The Powell Labs are world-renown for testing large-scale structural systems. Existing facilities include the Seismic Response Modification Device Testing Facility with a 16 ft. by 12 ft., six-degree-of-freedom shake table designed to test new technologies to retrofit the state’s longest span bridges; the Structural Systems Laboratory for testing of buildings up to five stories tall and bridges up to 120 ft. long, and the Structural Components Laboratory which includes a 65 ft. long reaction wall for side-by-side testing of full- or large-scale components and a 16 ft. by 10 ft. uni-axial shake table.

Co-investigators on the NSF grant include Jacobs School Structural Engineering Professors Frieder Seible, Scott Ashford, Joel P. Conte, Ahmed-Waeil Elgamal, André Filiatrault, J. Enrique Luco, José Restrepo, Chia-Ming Uang. Dr. Lelli Van Den Einde is the Project Manager and Larry Berman is the Sr. Development Engineer.


Powell Labs/Field Station at Camp Elliott,

George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES),

UCSD Jacobs School Department of Structural Engineering,