Network to link quake researchers

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 network for earthquake engineering research.

The award, announced Aug. 27, launches the design 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 (NCSA) will team with the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Michigan, the University of Southern California and TeraScale LLC, a New Mexico-based company.

NEES will enable researchers to remotely operate experimental equipment at more than 20 earthquake engineering facilities. The equipment includes shake tables, geotechnical centrifuges, a tsu.nami wave basin, and laboratory and field stations that will be used to model earthquakes, Anderson said.

NCSA will be providing "overall project leadership," including general deployment, system operation, user support and training, and data and metadata integration, said Tom Prudhomme, NCSA's principal investigator on NEES.

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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