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Grand Challenge 2: Urban Infrastructure

Novel construction materials and construction methods that are designed for sustainability and environmental and energy-use considerations will be part of the solution to America's aging and failing infrastructure.

Bridge Safety: Health Updates on Demand

Bridge Safety: Health Updates on Demand

Structural engineers at the Jacobs School are worldwide leaders in monitoring the health of bridges, buildings and other key infrastructure elements. Ahmed Elgamal, professor of structural engineering, has equipped a bridge that spans I-5 in La Jolla with motion sensors and a video camera to keep track of structural fatigue, and any sudden changes after an earthquake or other extreme event. The system, which has a live, 24-hour-per-day Web interface and database, can be used to schedule maintenance and address any observed areas of distress in an informed, economical and timely fashion.

Michael Todd, a structural engineering professor, employs novel structural health monitoring tools to create "smart structures" that continually provide data regarding health and performance in an online, efficient manner. He works to develop fiber optic sensor arrays and RFID-enabled sensor networks for structural health monitoring and damage prognosis strategies.

Structural engineering students and professors Gilbert Hegemier, Vistasp Karbhari and the dean of the Jacobs School, Frieder Seible, have taken continuous recordings of the output of strain gauges and accelerometers attached to a composite bridge on State Route 86 in Riverside County. The bridge carries traffic on a road known locally as the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) highway because it carries a high volume of fully loaded northbound trucks from manufacturing centers in Mexico. The system actually uses vehicle-induced motions to interrogate the structure. The health monitoring technology is so versatile that the prototype system is being evaluated for deployment on the busiest of the state's 24,000 bridges.

What's Shaking? Precast Concrete

Bridge Safety: Health Updates on Demand
Shaking took place at the Jacobs School’s Englekirk Structural Engineering Center.

Engineering researchers spent the first half of the summer performing rigorous earthquake simulation tests on a one-million pound, three story precast concrete structure that looks like a parking garage.

The goal: to study the seismic response of precast concrete floor systems used in structures such as parking garages, college dormitories, hotels, stadiums and office buildings. The team, led by the Jacobs School structural engineer, Jose Restrepo and Robert Fleishman from University of Arizona, is now analyzing the data they collected during the shakes, which reached a maximum of magnitude 8.0.The engineers are learning to design buildings that better withstand earthquakes, and their findings may be used to update building codes across the United States and the world.

The $2.3 million research project is a collaboration between UC San Diego, the University of Arizona and Lehigh University. It is being funded by the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute and its member companies and organizations, the National Science Foundation, the Charles Pankow Foundation and the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES).