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A. Cheap and Simple Earthquake Safety

Narrator: This is Science Today. More and more office buildings in earthquake zones are being built with earthquake safety systems -- shock absorbers or sliding bearings that isolate a building from the movement of the ground beneath it. Civil engineer Maria Feng of the University of California, Irvine has designed a new system that lets a building slide as much as it wants to in a small quake. In a large quake, which might send it sliding into the building next door, computer-controlled bearings kick in and control the slide.

Feng: Compared to other control systems the cost of this system is pretty low. The cost actually for this system doesn't cost much because controlling the pressure inside the bearing chambers does not require much energy. So actually this can be done by batteries.

Narrator: Which in a quake is a lot better than relying on outside power. And Feng's system has another advantage.

Feng: Because the control system is simple -- the simpler, the more reliable it is.

Narrator: The system hasn't been used in a real building yet, but Feng has already won awards for designing it. For Science Today, I'm Steve Tokar.