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Large Wave Basin and Traveling Mini Tank Teach About Tsunamis and Safety

NSF Award:

NEES Operations  (Purdue University)

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To help educate the public and engineering students about tsunamis, NSF-funded engineers use simulation tools--a large tsunami wave basin as well as a travelling mini-tank.

Faculty and staff at the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) Tsunami Research Facility at Oregon State University (OSU) teach thousands of K-16 students principles for structural safety and guide them as they build models of tsunami-resistant structures.

Some students' models end up in the facility's wave basin, where they're subjected to a tsunami similar to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The 160-ft long NEES@OSU wave basin is a unique facility, one of the largest of its type.

The OSU program extends its reach by taking advantage of cyberinfrastructure and telepresence capabilities. For example, civil engineering undergraduates at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, built models, sent them to the Oregon State laboratory, and then, using only a standard Internet connection, remotely viewed the testing in real time.

NEES@OSU also has a 16-ft long traveling mini tsunami wave tank for outreach at schools, conferences, and other public events. In February 2009, for example, the mini tank traveled to the Discover Engineering Family Day event in Washington, D.C. Young students and their families built LEGO structures, installed them in the mini-wave flume, and then hit them with a mini tsunami wave.

OSU staff and undergraduate and graduate student volunteers led children in the hands-on activity. The event, designed to teach civil engineering concepts, served more than 8,000 people in one day. In June 2009, the mini tank was shipped to the NSF Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation Research and Innovation Grantee Conference, where several hundred researchers explored tsunami risk reduction.

The 2011 tsunami in Japan and 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami underscore the importance of research to create tsunami-resistant communities and mitigate loss, and the importance of increased public understanding of tsunamis.


  • Large Wave Flume
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