Researchers crack the secrets of earthquake safety

For our buildings and infrastructure to be earthquake-safe, it is important to understand how different structures are affected with seismic activity. Miniature models and historical data of buildings and infrastructure are helpful, but they only determine the surface of quantifying and understanding a geological event as forceful and far-reaching as a major earthquake.

Two major research works seek to fill gaps and provide resources for researchers and engineers to study earthquakes at different levels, from the start of seismic waves at the fault rupture location deep ground, to interactions between individual structures and shaking soil at the surface.

The first effort is an experimental site for real-world examination on how the soil around a structure influences its action during an earthquake. The ground beneath may seem stiff, but vibrations can quickly make it weak. This is because soils are made of complex layers of mineral particles and rock in varying sizes, with varying moisture levels each of which responds differently to seismic activity.

During an earthquake, movements of buildings are governed by site-specific interactions between layers of soil and the direction and strength of the vibrations. The Large-Scale Laminar Soil Box System, which is nearly complete after more than five years of design and construction, will be the largest space in the U.S. for studying the interactions, and is comparable in size to the largest facility in the world.

The construction of the facility is a joint effort between the University of Nevada, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Reno University. The facility consists of a 350-ton capacity soil container placed on a hydraulic base that can imitate vibration with force up to one-and-a quarter million pounds. The opening of the facility happened on Sep 15 with a celebratory display event at the University of Nevada.