Wire, Vol. 10, No. 3 - Fall 1996

Making buildings smart enough to withstand earthquakes

A Major Qualifying Project completed last spring by six WPI students in a pioneering collaboration with six undergraduates at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, (UPRM) could have major implications for the future of building construction throughout the world.

For their project, "Design of a SMART Structure for Earthquake Isolation," Marco Fedelli, Jaimie Kramer, Edward (Ted) Manley, John Powell, Erik Thomas and Vinh Tran designed, built and tested two building models to determine how shape memory alloy (SMA) strips, incorporated into the steel supports of each building, would improve their ability to withstand earthquakes. The students subjected the models to vibrations that replicated the types of forces buildings may be subjected to during an earthquake and measured the effectiveness of the strips in reducing vibrations (and concurrent structural damage) from these events. The students presented their work, the first WPI/UPRM joint project, to members of the WPI community on Oct. 30. Hamid Davoodi, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UPRM who received his Ph.D. from WPI in 1988 and served as a co-advisor to the project, attended the presentation.

"Shape memory alloys are metals that retain memory," says A.V. Srinivasan, a WPI visiting professor of mechanical engineering and a world-recognized leader in the field of smart structures and shape memory alloys who initiated the project and developed the concept. "Through a metallurgical process, the alloys can be instilled with a preferred shape to which they will always returnčno matter how they are deformed. This shape recovery occurs when heat is applied, such as when an electric current is passed through the metal. For example, orthodontists use SMA wires to straighten youngsters' teeth by using their bodies' natural heat." Work on the project, the first of its kind to use shape memory materials for vibration isolation, was completed in two phases. In the winter of 1996, the WPI team, under the direction of several WPI mechanical engineering professors led by Srinivasan, designed a "smart" system as a prototype for seismic isolation of structural systems.. At the same time, UPRM undergraduates Enrique Abreu, Carlos Colon, Angel Crespo, Armando Rivera, Victor Rodriguez and Roberto Vazquez, working under Davoodi's direction, developed a similar design with the same objective.

The projects were funded with a $10,000 grant from United Technologies. This joint project was nominated for an Alliance for Minority Participation Award and the results will be published as a technical paper at the June 1997 meeting of the Canadian Congress of Applied Mechanics. Two new teams of WPI/UPRM students will further develop the design in 1997.

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