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MU Seismic Design Team rocks

An Earthquake Engineering Research Institute official attaches a sensor to the roof of the Mizzou Seismic Design Team's entry in EERI's annual competition. Fully 22 teams competed in the 2010 competition in which Mizzou's team took second place. (Photo by Matt Wheeler.)

Mizzou Engineering’s Seismic Design Team took second place in the seventh annual Seismic Design Competition sponsored by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), no small feat for a team that was competing in the national competition for only the second time.

Five team members attended the event, held in San Francisco February 3-6, competing against 22 teams from schools in the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to raising awareness about their organization, EERI sponsors the competition to promote earthquake engineering to undergraduate students and to provide them with opportunities to work on hands-on projects designing and constructing cost- effective frame structures that will resist earthquakes.

“The premise of the competition is that we built the tower as an office building for the judges, who are our ‘clients’,” said Matt Wheeler, a civil engineering major who serves as team captain. “It had to be economical and still have the ability to withstand earthquakes.”

“We came up with a design that represented solid construction techniques,” said Don Spradling of the team’s five-foot balsa wood model. Spradling, also a civil engineering major, participated on the 3-year-old team for the first time this year. “And we built 90 percent of it using just three different pieces.”

Using a point system, teams were judged on a variety of criteria. Judges scored teams’ five-minute presentations; project posters judged as a stand-alone pieces; models’ architectural aesthetics; the scale model buildings’ weights and costs; the income potential of the “office buildings”; and the structures’ performances during a series of three increasingly strong earthquakes.

“The model is put on a shake table with sensors on the top and bottom,” Spradling explained. “Our structure weighed 2.6 pounds and was loaded with 30 pounds on the top.”

“The idea is to make it flexible in order to compartmentalize damage,” said Wheeler, explaining that as an office building, if the damage is restricted to smaller areas, the better it is financially for a building’s owner.

The team’s model fared well in the first two quakes but in the third more powerful simulated quake, waves were added and the structure suffered 20 percent damage at the base, a common occurrence on most teams’ models.

A 20 percent bonus was awarded for accurate performance predictions, a category in which Wheeler said the team did phenomenally well. “We got first in that category by a wide margin,” he predicted, as EERI has not yet provided the team with their test results.

“We had a method based in science and engineering, and a good computer model,” said Spradling.

“We had a lot of fun,” added Wheeler.



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