Leading earthquake research lab at UC Davis

DAVIS, Calif. – Researchers at UC Davis say Monday morning's earthquake in Los Angeles is a reminder of the imporatance of their work.

The university is home to the Center for Geotechnical Modeling and the largest geotechnical centrifuge in the United States.

"It's the best centrifuge facility in the world, so we get to meet all those people who really know their jobs and learn a lot from them," Samuel Yniesta, a UCLA doctoral student, said.

Yniesta is working with UC Irvine doctoral student Riccardo Cappa on studying the potential effects of earthquakes on levees along the Delta.

Cappa believes UC Davis' facility is the best in the world.

"We use the centrifuge here in Davis to apply ground motion, simulated ground motion and structure, and see what can happen in real life," Cappa said.

The center's director, Dr. Daniel Wilson, says the lab costs about $1.3 million per year to operate. Researchers cover the costs of the experiments conducted in the lab, which can cost more than $75,000 each, and graduate students often help with conducting the experiments.

A lot of that cost goes to running the lab's crown jewel, a 10-meter-long centrifuge, which spins at 90 revolutions per minute. That produces a force 80 times the force of gravity, compacting the soil inside the models so they react in the same manner to soil a few hundred feet below ground.

The end of the centrifuge then briefly shakes the model, replicating an earthquake.

High-speed cameras and dozens of sensors capture the results.

"We get to build real things, we design them, we build them, and then we get to test them and fail them, which is a lot of fun," Dr. Wilson said.

While the experiments can be fun, Wilson said the results could influence how people build and live in earthquake-prone areas for years to come.

"It takes decades, if not generations, to really change the way we do things, but it's important to keep doing it," Wilson said.


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