UNR Conducts World's First Destructive Quake Test

By  | 

Things got a little shaky over at the University of Nevada campus when a simulated earthquake broke an engineering record.

Researchers and engineers from across the country crowded around to get a look at what 8.0 on the Richter scale means to your everyday bridge.

UNR engineering students unleashed four earthquakes on a 110-foot long model bridge today, the largest model ever tested in the world.

"A lot of damage to concrete columns, bars showing themselves, maybe some of them near failure. Chunks of concrete falling off the columns," said M. Saiid Saiidi, Principal Investigator for the project.

Not quite the kind of structure you'd want to rely on. Engineering student Robert Nelson designed the bridge for his graduate school thesis, knowing his masterpiece would be put under some of the worst natural conditions imaginable.

"It's a little bittersweet spending so much time on something and then destroying it in just a few seconds, but it's exciting. As an engineer, you come to realize that nothing is indestructible," said Nelson.

Exactly the reason engineers decided to shake things up in the first place. After consulting bridge specialists nationwide, they built one based on the most common bridge design, and then tried to see just how big an earthquake it could survive.

"We did not hear any snapping of steel, so that is good news," said Saiidi."

After the quake, teams assessed the extent of the damage using precise measurements and tools.

"These sensors measure the size of cracks, which then tells engineers how much damage the bridge can withstand."

Although it didn't come falling down, it also didn't look like the type of bridge you'd want to cross. The designer says the giant tremor that destroyed his thesis was a scientific breakthrough, and not just for engineers.

"Any earthquake I've ever been in I've been sleeping during. So this is about the closest I've ever gotten."

Engineers will use the results of the fake quakes to mold the future of bridge designs both in the state and across the country. Since Nevada is the third most seismically active state in the U.S., the the chance of a real quake striking here at home isn't out of the question.

You can view the live test (after 10am) on Feb 15th here


The bridge model can be viewed anytime here