World's Largest Earthquake Simulator Gets an Upgrade

UC-San Diego researchers want to make their shake table more realistic.

The University of California-San Diego is home to the world's largest outdoor earthquake simulator. The table has hosted a number of interesting tests in the past, including a three-story building that was tested to failure in 2017.

The earthquake simulator will now receive some pretty powerful upgrades after it received a $16.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand its testing capabilities.

Researchers want to make the shake table more realistic. Until now, the table could only move back and forth in one direction. It will soon have the full range of ground motion that occurs during an earthquake. The upgraded table can now be used to test the biggest projects in the world, like bridge components, larger buildings and wind turbines.

After the upgrades, researchers will first test a full-scale 10-story building made from cross-laminated timber. The goal will be to gather data to design wood buildings as tall as 20 stories that do not suffer significant damage during large earthquakes.

Cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are now working to retrofit old concrete buildings for seismic safety, which will require large-scale tests of retrofitting systems.

The shake table was originally designed in 2001-02 to reproduce all the directions of ground motion in an earthquake, but its capabilities were scaled back due to budget constraints. The shake table facility will be closed from February 2020 to July 2021 to perform the upgrades.

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