Center shakes up earthquakes

Author: Elizabeth Gardner and Steve Tally
The earthquake that struck Haiti in January registered 7.0 on the Richter scale, a shock that resulted in thousands of deaths and huge destruction. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 124 major earthquakes have occurred throughout the world in the past decade. Major earthquakes are generally accepted to register a magnitude in excess of 7.0 on the Richter scale and inflict serious damage, including the collapse of buildings and bridges, over a large area. The organization estimates that earthquakes were responsible for 463,959 deaths in the past decade. A new center at Purdue will take aim at such gross loss of life and property.

The center, funded by a $105 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will serve as headquarters for the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES).

NEES began development in 2000 and is a shared national network of 14 state-of-the-art earthquake engineering and tsunami experimental facilities at universities across the United States. It is charged with advancing research and education to reduce the devastation and loss of human life from earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Purdue-based NEEScomm Center (NEES Community and Communications Center) will connect 14 NEES research equipment sites and the earthquake engineering community through groundbreaking cyberinfrastructure, education and outreach efforts.

Through the NEES network, researchers from the United States and abroad conduct experiments and simulations of the ways buildings, bridges, utility systems and different materials perform during seismic events. Earthquake engineers will use this information to develop better and more cost-effective ways of reducing earthquake damage through improved materials, construction techniques and monitoring tools, according to Julio Ramirez, the project’s principal investigator and a professor of civil engineering who is also director of the center.

A cornerstone of the center is the development of information technology components that allow for new forms of collaboration and cooperation, according to Rudolf Eigenmann, co-principal investigator and professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The NEEScomm Center will be a collaborative space and science hub where scientists and engineers can run scientific models and “what if?” scenarios. Hubs, which were first developed at Purdue, allow researchers to run models using a simple Web interface. The hub connects with supercomputing resources on the NSF’s TeraGrid and the national DiaGrid, which allow researchers to run their experiments without having to request time on a supercomputer.