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UNR Engineering Lab Simulates Massive Earthquakes

The UNR engineering lab holds a state-of-the-art earthquake table, which simulates the impact of earthquakes.

The UNR engineering lab holds a state-of-the-art earthquake table, which simulates the impact of earthquakes.

Our state isn’t known for earthquakes, though we do get a lot of small ones. There were 22 last year alone.

As it happens, the world turns to the University of Nevada, Reno, for the latest in earthquake research.

The lab doesn't just study them — it creates them. It just finished a first-of-its-kind experiment, testing a 100-ton bridge on its one-of-kind shake table that can simulate any magnitude quake. 

Saiid Saiidi is an engineering professor at UNR. He told KNPR's State of Nevada the experiment was unique because if focused on pre-fabricated bridge pieces held together with six different types of connections.

The connections are important because in engineering "things can fall apart at the joints," Saiidi explained.

The bridge pieces and the connections were tested with a simulated earthquake the same magnitude as the Northridge quake that hit California in 1994.

“What we learned was all the six types of connections that we incorporated generally did well," Saiidi said.

Saiidi said the damage to the bridge was exactly where they expected it to be; however, he said there were 400 channels of data coming from the shake table, which means they have a lot more data to go through.

“What’s important about this having this kind of data results that would allow states like Nevada, California or Alaska – these are high seismic states in the United States – to adopt this technology and expedite bridge construction," he said.

Currently, there aren't bridges like the one tested in those states, but with evidence that they hold up better to earthquakes, Saiidi expects the wide-spread use of the bridge. 

(Editor's note: This interview originally aired September 2017)

Saiid Saiidi, engineering professor, University of Nevada, Reno

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.