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Test on Architectural Materials that Could Reduce Movement During Tremors

Over 80,000 aftershocks have been registered as the repercussion of the two California earthquakes that took place on July 4th, 2019, which was a holiday.

Imagine a cell that is indestructible. UTSA engineers won funding to invent a structure that can be embedded in walls to absorb and disperse the power of earthquakes while protecting buildings. (Image credit: UTSA)

Californians, who are generally used to earthquakes, blindsided with tremors that were the largest in magnitude in the past 10 years. Luckily, there was no loss of human life; however, the U.S. Geological Survey approximates that the earthquakes resulted in economic losses of around $1 billion.

Investigators at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) have acquired funding to test architectural materials that can help minimize the lateral movement caused by seismic events without much disturbance to daily life.

Imagine using just one material that can both hold the weight of a building but also dissipate the energy of an earthquake.

David Restrepo, Assistant Professor, UTSA Department of Mechanical Engineering

At present, architects depend on thick and elastic or metallic dampers to help reduce the movement of a building during quakes. However, these same damping devices distort upon impact or melt in severe temperatures like fires. This inflexibility leads to the destruction of buildings and costly reconstructive efforts.

We’re working on getting new architectural materials with the right shape that can deform upon an earthquake, trap the energy, dissipate it, and then return to its undeformed state without the need of extra processing or repairs,” added Restrepo. “We can create a material that relies on elastic deformation.”

During earthquakes, the walls of a building can deform and lead to separation. Restrepo plans to set the so-called periodic cellular materials (PCMs) or repeating structures, inside the walls to prevent this deformation.

The solution he has proposed provides three advantages: the decrease in structural steel and costs required for construction, lightweight, and absorption of high levels of energy.

Currently, the UTSA scientist is evaluating flexible architectural materials and working on mathematical formulas to determine the strength required for the best possible product. He will team up on the study with Colombian civil engineers at Universidad EAFIT and expects to have preliminary results prepared later this year.

The UTSA Office of the Vice President for Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise (VPREDKE) offered seed funding to jumpstart Restrepo’s earthquake resilience project.

This is not just about buildings. It’s also about saving lives. We will eventually incorporate these architectural materials even in cars,” stated Restrepo.

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