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(October 19, 2000, Gazette)

C-CORE to offer earthquake simulation

Shaking up research

Centrifuge machineCentrifuge machine

By Anna Dwyer

C-CORE will expand its industry consulting services to include earthquake engineering, having received a near half-million dollar investment to enhance its high-tech centrifuge facilities.

The research centre, housed at Memorial University’s St. John’s campus, will spend about $300,000 on a hydraulic shaker, designed to simulate the impact of earthquakes on soil. This sophisticated piece of equipment will be used in conjunction with C-CORE’s Geotechnical Centrifuge Centre to provide additional support services to resource-based industries throughout the world.

“It’s not a trivial piece of machinery,” said Ryan Phillips, director of the centrifuge facilities. “This shaker will carry a half-tonne mass of soil (500 kilograms) in a 100 g acceleration field. So if you’re carrying a 50 tonne weight, and to be able to stimulate earthquakes, typically of a one hertz frequency, you have to be shaking that 50 tonnes at 100 times a second.”

Strong box containing a model
Strong box containing a model

The C-CORE team provided engineering support during the construction of the Confederation Bridge, linking Prince Edward Island to the rest of the Maritime provinces, and had input into Hibernia’s offshore GPS platform. Other consulting services include iceberg management, remote sensing, intelligent systems, geotechnical engineering and offshore pipeline installation. Nearly 90 per cent of
C-CORE’s operations involve project-based consulting for private industry.

The Geotechnical Centrifuge Centre also provides industry-focused training for MUN students. With the additional equipment, students now have an opportunity to study and improve engineering designs for soil-structures in earthquake-prone areas.

Although Atlantic Canada is not considered a high-risk area, considerable threat exists in Western Canada and Quebec. Extreme climate conditions also present specialized engineering challenges for the offshore oil and gas industry. According to Dr. Phillips, the only earthquake in Canada that resulted in the loss of human life occurred in Newfoundland, on the Burin Peninsula in 1929 when an offshore earthquake triggered a tidal wave.

Centrifuge basket carrying a strong box and model
Centrifuge basket carrying a strong box and model

The actuator, as the equipment is known, provides a safe and controlled environment that will serve as a test site for both the academic community and private industry worldwide. These facilities will be one of a kind in Canada. There are six such geotechnical facilities in the U.S., all heavily used by American companies, said Dr. Phillips.

“It’s a $5-million facility so not everyone can have one,” he said. “But, Canada’s problems should be solved by Canadians. “We do a series of tests with a locally strengthened zone of soil and then we move the zone around to determine the optimum placement, and how large the zone should be to come up with the most effective foundation.”

With the aid of a timer, Dr. Phillips can simulate the initial sharp impact of an earthquake, as well as its aftershocks. One of the biggest challenges for structural engineers in earthquake-affected areas is the liquification of soil, he noted. This can endanger life by destabilizing massive structures, including bridges, buildings and offshore rigs.

“Because it is such an infrequent, yet unpredictable event, there are very few ways of verifying whether these (engineering) designs are correct, except for physical or numerical simulation,” he said. “Of course, now we’re able to do both.”

Total facility contributions include a $279,000 NSERC grant, a $51,000 CFI grant, as well as about $140,000 provided by C-CORE. The NSERC major facilities access grant also provides technical and lab support. It allows free access to any Canadian academic institution conducting centrifuge-related research.

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