Scientists to Simulate Earthquake Using Five-Story Building in Japan

Landmark earthquake engineering tests this summer in Japan could open the door for earthquake-proofing technology applied to hospitals, nuclear power plants and emergency-response facilities to be more common in the United States, as well as confirm the capabilities for the technology used in Japan and the rest of the world.

The tests will be conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno, on a five-story, 500-ton, steel-frame building that is supported by two different types of shock absorber base isolation systems. According to a University news release, the tests will be held on the 50-by-65-foot earthquake simulation “shake-table” at the Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center, also known as E-Defense. The hydraulically activated table, the world’s largest, will exert several extreme earthquake motions to the building over a three-week period, said Keri Ryan, University of Nevada, Reno civil engineering professor and lead researcher for the project.

“These tests will represent the grandest showcase of the benefit of seismic isolation technology to date,” Ryan said. “The primary objective of the tests is to demonstrate that damage-free performance can be targeted and achieved against an extremely rare earthquake anticipated to occur only every 2,500 years on the West Coast of the United States.”

The National Science Foundation and Nuclear Regulatory Commission have funded the base isolation research, which will help fill critical knowledge gaps, validate assumptions regarding behavior and modeling, and provide essential proof-of-concept evidence regarding the importance of base isolation technology.

Successful completion of these tests, the first of their kind, will make it feasible to have seismically-safe structures and will be a major step toward new regulations for use in nuclear power plants.

“We will also show how new base isolation systems can protect not only the buildings, but the contents and nonstructural systems — interior partition walls, suspended ceilings and piping systems — that routinely and catastrophically fail in large motion earthquakes,” she said. On one of the floors, a mock office will be constructed that will house furnishings and other contents. On the fourth and fifth floors the ceiling, piping and partitions systems will be installed for the test.

The nonstructural portion of the research is led by researcher and dean of the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Engineering, Manos Maragakis. Maragakis is lead investigator for the Grand Challenge project that is, for the first time, studying earthquake effects on non-structural elements within the buildings that will lead to enhancing the seismic performance of non-structural items.

For more information about this summer’s earthquake testing in Japan, visit: