Lehigh University
Lehigh University


$2.6 million grant funds new ATLSS earthquake lab

ATLSS is the nation’s leading laboratory for the large-scale testing of bridges, buildings and other structures.

ATLSS--Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems--has received a $2.6 million grant from the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). ATLSS also will receive $344,000 from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance and $228,000 from Lehigh.

The grant is part of a 15-year initiative by the National Science Foundation, through which Lehigh and 14 other universities in the "NEES Network" will conduct research to develop cost-effective ways of mitigating earthquake destruction. Each university will build an Equipment Site; each site will be commissioned by Oct. 1, 2004, and operate under NSF sponsorship for 10 years.

"This grant will enable Lehigh and the 14 other universities with NEES collaborating Equipment Sites to enter the next generation of earthquake engineering research," says Jim Ricles, professor of civil and environmental engineering and principal investigator for Lehigh’s NEES Equipment Site grant.

Each university, Ricles says, will perform a different aspect of research. Their efforts will be coordinated through a consortium developer in Richmond, Calif.

Under the grant, ATLSS will build a real-time, multi-directional testing lab that can simulate the effect on large structures of the ground-shaking caused by earthquakes. The lab will also monitor response of the structures of these quake "loads."

The new lab will be linked to the NEES network through the Mid-Atlantic GigaPop Internet 2 (MAGPI). The connection will enable engineers at NEES sites and other remote locations to operate experiments on the new facility. Likewise, ATLSS will be able to "broadcast" its experiments and share data in real time by streaming video over the Internet, Ricles says. The telepresence capabilities of the Lehigh NEES Equipment Site will enable the public-- including students at Lehigh and other universities, K-12 students, and practicing engineers--to take part in earthquake engineer research.

"The NEES grant is one of the biggest equipment grants ATLSS has received in its 16-year history," ATLSS director Richard Sause says. "It enables us to retain our competitive edge in earthquake engineering research and to interact with the other major players in the field."

Preparing for the worst case

The goal of the NEES program is to lessen the damage caused by earthquakes by using new materials and new building methods, and by gaining a better understanding of the interactions between structures and the soils that support and abut them.

ATLSS researchers, in addition to developing new testing techniques that integrate experimental and analytical research, will explore the use of advanced sensors--including MEMS-based (micro-electrical mechanical systems) accelerometers, piezoelectric transducers, and fiber optic strain gages--to monitor the performance of structures. And they will experiment with the wireless transmission of the data retrieved by those sensors.

The new equipment provided by the NEES grant will enhance ATLSS’s facilities, which now include a strong floor that covers 372 square meters and a multi-directional reaction wall--largest in North America--that stands 15 meters tall at one end and decreases, in four incremental steps over a length of 32 meters, to heights of 12.2 meters, 9.1 meters and 6.1 meters.

The actuators, hydraulic systems modification, and remaining equipment provided by the grant will give the lab new dynamic capabilities, enabling it to simulate and sustain the effects of the Maximum Considered Earthquake (MCE) for a duration of more than 30 seconds. The MCE event is an earthquake of such large magnitude that it occurs only once in 2,500 years. In an MCE event, structures properly designed by current standards are expected be on the verge of collapse.

In its brief history, ATLSS has become synonymous with the large-scale stress testing of large structures and their components. Experiments performed at the research center can simulate in six months or a year the total punishment that a bridge, for example, would sustain from 30 years of traffic. Structures tested at ATLSS include cross-sections of prototype double-hulled U.S. Navy combat ships and a 60-foot-long, two-lane-wide prototype of New York City’s Williamsburg Bridge deck.

Currently, ATLSS engineers are conducting tests on a full-scale deck prototype of New York’s Bronx-Whitestone Bridge.

Besides Ricles and Sause, the investigators taking part in Lehigh’s NEES project include Clay Naito, Sibel Pamukcu, and Yunfeng Zhang, all professors in the department of civil and environmental engineering. Project managers are John Bower, ATLSS deputy director, and Robert Alpago, ATLSS associate director. Frank Stokes, ATLSS research scientist, is serving as lab manager, and Peter Bryan, ATLSS systems manager, as information technologist. Xiaoping Zhang has recently joined ATLSS to serve as a research scientist for the project.

Besides Lehigh and Illinois, the universities taking part in the NEES initiative include Brigham Young University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Cornell University, the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities, the University of Nevada at Reno, Oregon State University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, SUNY-Buffalo, the University of Texas at Austin, UCLA, UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, and UC-San Diego.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Sunday, February 16, 2003

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