Studying Soil Behavior Under Pressure Could Save Millions of Dollars


Research makes use of unique centrifuge on the Rensselaer campus.

Millions of dollars are spent fortifying dams to withstand earthquakes — but it may not be necessary. New research being conducted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is examining whether or not that spending actually contributes to public safety.

“The Army Corps of Engineers has spent hundreds of millions of dollars retrofitting some dams which may not need to be retrofitted,” said Tarek Abdoun, a chaired professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rensselaer who is leading this research with support from the National Science Foundation.
Abdoun and his team will build soil models to scale and place them inside a centrifuge on the Rensselaer campus. They will then simulate an earthquake and the pressure the soil would experience by spinning and shaking the model.

The Rensselaer team, which includes Ricardo Dobry, an Institute Professor of civil and environmental engineering, is specifically looking at soil liquefaction. This phenomenon, which is not well understood, occurs when earthquake shaking reduces the strength and stiffness of soil to the point that it behaves like a liquid.

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