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Earthquake Engineering Mobile Laboratory link

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Field Testing & Monitoring of Structural Performance  (University of California-Los Angeles)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The Earthquake Engineering Mobile Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is a part of the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). The program is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is home to a mobile lab capable of testing full-scale structural and foundation systems.

NEES is the centerpiece of NSF’s ongoing priority to understand earthquakes and prevent or mitigate the damage they cause. Opened for operations on Oct. 1, 2004, NEES is a network of sites available for experimentation on-site, in the field, and through remote operations. The network helps researchers understand how earthquake and tsunami forces affect ground motion and soil liquefaction as well as the built environment—buildings, bridges, utility systems—and near-shore and coastal environments. The NEES networking cyberinfrastructure connects equipment sites and provides a tele-presence, a curated central data repository, simulation tools and collaborative tools for facilitating on-line planning, execution and post-processing of experiments.

The ground may feel solid beneath our feet, but the strong ground motion that occurs during an earthquake can cause the ground to suddenly become unstable and behave like liquid. This change of seemingly solid earth to a loose, shifting soil is called liquefaction. It is not enough to study how to construct earthquake safe structures. Engineers also need to understand how the ground beneath a structure will react.

To conduct research where structures already exist - or to test the soil where future building may be planned - researchers need to conduct experiments outside of the traditional laboratory, or “in situ” (a Latin term meaning “in the original place”). The mobile laboratory at UCLA makes it possible to test on-site and relay the data directly from the field. Lab vehicles carry equipment that can generate ground vibrations, plus sensors with recording devices to measure the effects. The study of how a structure will react to the ground it stands on during an earthquake-like force is called Soil-Foundation-Structure Interaction, or SFSI.

Education & Outreach

The Earthquake Engineering Mobile Laboratory engages with the broader public in numerous ways. Laboratory staff have reached out to elementary schools, educators, and researchers in other fields, and have presented the laboratory at symposia, workshops, and training programs.

The NEES Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program is a dynamic 10-week summer research program for upper division undergraduate students interested in Civil Engineering, Computer Science/Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and other fields related to seismic risk mitigation testing. REU participants are paired with a faculty advisor, join a NEES research team, and participate in enrichment activities including attending the NEES Annual Meeting and the Young Researchers’ Symposium. Mentors, including university faculty, researchers, and graduate students, provide support and guidance to interns. Students are taught how to conduct independent research and how to participate effectively as a member of a research team.

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  • Image from the NSF-funded Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation.
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