Shake, Rattle, and Roll

by Michael Mullaney on July 14, 2009

Having lived in northern Japan for a few years, I’ve experienced dozens of earthquakes – including one serious 7.0 quake that resulted in the tipping over of our cupboard and shattering of every last plate, glass, and bowl. No fun. The quake felt so massive, I abandoned safety protocol and ran outside because I was convinced my two-story wooden apartment building was going to collapse. Thankfully, it didn’t.

Professor Michael Symans is one of a tight-knit group of researchers working to ensure that even taller wooden buildings won’t collapse during quakes. He was in Japan today to help conduct the largest earthquake simulation ever attempted on a wooden structure. We issued a news release last week, which resulted in some excellent coverage by both Wired and Gizmodo. The experiment was the capstone of the four-year NEESWood Project aimed at developing new methods for designing safer and stronger wooden buildings that could better withstand earthquakes and, in turn, save lives and minimize property damage.

The structure was seven stories tall. The first story had a steel frame, while the top six stories were wooden. The idea, Symans said, was that in bigger cities in California and Japan, mid-rise buildings would likely be occupied stores and commercial spaces on the first floor, while the upper floors would be residential.

Here’s an impressive video of the initial “warm up” test they performed last week in Miki, Japan, on the world’s largest shake table. Make sure to turn up your speakers when you watch it:

Follow this link and scroll to the bottom of the page to see footage of the actual capstone shake, along with some great interviews with researchers from partner institutions who worked on the project.

David Rosowsky, who will join Rensselaer in a few weeks as the new Dean of Engineering, is also a co-PI on the NEESWood Project and was in Miki, Japan for the capstone test.