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Earthquake simulation shows off the potential for safer bridges

Steve Mahin, Director, Pacific Earthquake Engineering Researcher (PEER) Center:

What we have designed is a new system for bridges which will go through earthquakes in a safe manner, but in a way that it would remain open and functioning for the public following a very large earthquake.

We normally divide the bridge up into segments. The bridge is too long to make in one big, long piece.  Each of those segments are like people in a line and if you have ten people in a line, each person is moving sideways and out of phase, so what we're doing here is trying to keep everybody in line and so that the white line down the road will be continuous and we're doing that by just gently guiding the bridge from one segment to the next so that they stay in line.

This is the triple pendulum isolator.  Inside it has a spherical bowl that allows the device to move back and forth and roll like a pendulum, but the surface of this is coated with Teflon like a Teflon frying pan and so instead of just rolling, it goes back with some friction like that. This then is covered with another one of these so that during an earthquake it can rotate but also move  sideways as you saw in the test.

We have to guide the various segments of the bridge so they act in unison so to accomplish that we have these lock-up guides, which then look like this and they allow the bridge to move and it's guided in longitudinal and transverse displacements to do what we would like it to do. The tests exceed our expectations. We look forward to doing some actual analysis of the bridge so that we're confident in our findings and we can come up with some good recommendations for future bridge design.