NSF casts earthquake simulation net

In an effort to reduce the human, structural and financial devastation caused by earthquakes, the National Science Foundation awarded $10 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop a national cybernetwork for earthquake engineering research.

The award, announced Aug. 27, launches the design and implementation of the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). When completed in 2004, the network will enable multiple researchers to share facilities, equipment and data via a high-speed Internet grid, said Thomas Anderson, program director and NEES equipment project coordinator at NSF.

"The goal is to reduce earthquake losses," Anderson said. "The notion of the network is that we ought to be able to engage a great many more researchers in the problem of earthquake engineering performance."

In developing the network, the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications will partner with the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Michigan, the University of Southern Californiaand TeraScale LLC, a New Mexico-based company.

NEES will enable researchers to remotely operate experimental equipmentat more than 20 advanced earthquake engineering facilities linked to the network. It also will enable them to more easily share data and computations. The equipment includes shake tables, geotechnical centrifuges, a tsunami wave basin, and laboratory and field stations that will be used to model earthquakes and help engineers design buildings and infrastructure to withstand those forces, Anderson said.

"Because the sites are linked, we'll be able to actively simulate an entire system," with different physical and computer tests being conducted at multiple sites, he said.

The performance-based design means being able to ensure that a facility will "reliably and repeatedly" survive an earthquake situation, Anderson said. "We can't do that today."

Earlier this year, NSF finished awarding $45 million to 10 institutions to build and upgrade earthquake engineering equipment in anticipation of the shared-use network. The institutions should be using parts of the system prior to the network's completion in 2004.

"I'd encourage them to start using it as soon as they can," Anderson said. "I'd like to see that happen over the course of a year or two because it will help us exercise it and see where the weak points are that we need to shore up."

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