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Earthquake research brings down the house

Testing a building to see how strong an earthquake it can withstand is a more delicate process than it sounds.

“If we shake it down all at once, we wouldn’t get all the data we want,” said Benson Shing, a structural engineering professor at the University of California, San Diego.

At the university’s Camp Elliot Field Station, a three-story reinforced concrete and brick building sits on a hydraulic shake table. Typical of 1920s construction, the building is the largest ever to be seismically tested and promises to provide insight into how these older structures can be reinforced.

More than 250 string gauges and other devices are attached to the building, collecting thousands of measurements as the building is subjected to increasingly stronger ground movement.

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The data helps create models to predict this type of building’s performance during an earthquake. Currently, no models exist for these older structures because they are very complicated, said Andreas Stavridis, the Ph.D. student leading the project.

The U.C. engineers planned to shake the building to failure this month.

After spending several months analyzing the data, they plan to construct the same building again for a second round of testing.