Engineering School awarded $3.8 million for earthquake research

Ashley Tsao

The Cockrell School of Engineering was given a $3.8 million grant by the National Science Foundation to continue hazards research on infrastructure resistance against earthquakes. 

UT is one of seven universities involved in the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure program, an organization created by the NSF. Professor Kenneth Stokoe, associate professor Brady Cox and assistant professor Patricia Clayton lead the team at the Cockrell School.

UT was awarded the grant after submitting a proposal that went through a merit review process, according to NSF spokeswoman Sarah Bates.

“The National Science Foundation had a call for proposals, specifically for facilities around the U.S. that could provide equipment to better provide information about infrastructure resistance to natural disasters,” Clayton said.  

It is important that universities take steps toward investing more in hazards research in light of numerous recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Haitian earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Clayton said.  

“Thousands of people were negatively affected by these natural hazards,” Clayton said. “For us to be able to understand these hazards will better allow us to design our communities to be more resilient against them. With this research, we can reduce the amount of negative impacts that these hazards will have on people.”

According to Clayton, this grant specifically helps to maintain machines called shaker trucks that were originally built in 2000 through a different NSF grant. These machines produce accelerations through the ground to simulate the same ground shaking that a real earthquake would do. Sensors placed along the ground surface will detect these waves, and the data can be used to inform engineers how to build or rebuild structures to resist future earthquakes.

Electrical engineering junior Jason Cai said grants such as this one are helpful to both faculty and students at UT. 

“If the departments didn’t get any grants, the professors would have to raise the money by themselves,” Cai said. “Students are also helped out by funding because it offers them more research opportunities to prepare for the real world.”

The funding to maintain shaker trucks not only helps UT, but also researchers around the nation, according to Clayton. 

“Any researcher in the nation can request to use the trucks for their own research,” Clayton said. “We received funding not necessarily to conduct our own research, but to be a resource for anyone in the U.S. that is studying how to make buildings more resistant to earthquakes.”