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Dean's Message

Perseverance is in our DNA

July 2022

Albert P. Pisano

I'm proud to announce that after a concerted effort spanning nearly 20 years, the UC San Diego outdoor earthquake shake table can now shake buildings, bridges, elevated highway components, wind turbines, and many other structures in six degrees of freedom. Recently, the Director of the NSF, the Honorable Sethuraman Panchanathan, together with campus and NSF leaders, industry partners, and friends celebrated our re-commissioning of UC San Diego's outdoor earthquake shake table. At the event, we saw our upgraded earthquake simulator in action. The table has the largest load-carrying capacity in the world – 2,000 metric tons. And because the table is outside, building heights are virtually unlimited. The outdoor location also allows us to test multiple disasters at once, such as an earthquake followed by a fire. 

The faculty, staff and students working on the shake table offer a great illustration of the perseverance that is in the DNA of the Jacobs School of Engineering. Since it opened in 2004, the research done on our outdoor shake table has transformed building codes and retrofit strategies. Thanks to this work, we are safer and our buildings and other built infrastructure are more resilient in the face of powerful earthquakes.

When our structural engineers first envisioned the shake table nearly 20 years ago, they designed a table that would shake structures in six degrees of freedom. This means three linear directions (x, y, z) and three angular directions (roll, pitch, yaw). But based on fiscal constraints at the time, they altered the building plans and ultimately opened a world-class seismic safety research facility that shook test subjects along a single axis. 

These visionary structural engineers didn't let hopes for perfection get in the way of engineering for the public good. The shake table emerged as a nationally renowned seismic safety research facility and has maintained its excellence thanks to talented and creative users and staff, and a mix of federal, state, industry and philanthropic funding sources.

Even with this success, a core group of Jacobs School structural engineers kept working on their original vision of shaking in six degrees of freedom. And in 2018, the NSF awarded UC San Diego nearly $17M to upgrade the table to shake in six degrees of freedom. This upgrade is now complete. 

Why does six degrees of freedom matter when it comes to shaking structures? Earthquakes shake buildings (and everything else) in full 3D, which can be reproduced by moving the shake table in six degrees of freedom. If you can replicate these fluid, 3D movements when you're shaking your test structures, you can replicate earthquake damage more accurately, and you can design safer buildings, construction codes, and retrofit strategies.

I am proud to be the lucky dean under whom this was completed, and I fully honor all those before me who worked so hard to make it possible. I am inspired by the problem solving on top of problem solving, by the commitment on top of commitment. Our long term perseverance bridged multiple campus administrations at all levels. This sustained commitment and perseverance is a vivid, moving example of our ability here at the Jacobs School, and across campus, to maintain focus and reach our goals for truly leveraging engineering and computer science for the public good. 

As I look out over the entire Jacobs School, I see new projects being imagined by our bold, creative researchers all the time. Many of them are exciting, nascent projects in the works right now, getting ready to launch. Some may take a long time to be completed. And I'm happy to do everything that I can as a dean to help each of these nascent projects, timeframe not notwithstanding, to launch and move to completion. Because I am confident in our perseverance. This perseverance is in our DNA here at the Jacobs School, and it empowers us to make bold possible. 

Read the full monthly email as a PDF.

As always, I can be reached at DeanPisano@eng.ucsd.edu.

Sincerely, 
Al
Albert ("Al") P. Pisano, Dean
UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering