Online fight against earthquakes

The US National Science Foundation has awarded $10 million to the University of Illinois to help create a virtual laboratory through which engineers can design and test earthquake-safe structures.

The award launches the design and implementation of the George E. Brown, Jr., Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) which, when completed in 2004, will allow multiple researchers to share facilities, equipment and data through a high-speed Internet grid.

NEESgrid will link earthquake engineering research sites across the country, provide data storage facilities and offer remote access to research tools.

Through NEESgrid, researchers will be able to conduct experiments using shake tables, centrifuges and tsunami wave tanks from their desktop workstations.

They will also be able to use computer simulation software and high-performance computing clusters and to share research data stored in online repositories.

By connecting researchers and research facilities in different geographic areas and encouraging the exchange of data and ideas, the network is expected to foster collaboration and quicken the pace of earthquake engineering.

‘The goal is to create a collaborative research network by linking researchers and engineering testing facilities across the United States and providing them with the latest computational tools,’ said Priscilla Nelson, NSF division director for civil and mechanical systems. ‘We expect this network to speed the simulations, experiments, and data analysis that lead to better seismic design and hazard mitigation.’

According to a statement, NEESgrid will take advantage of tools and technologies developed over the last five years through the NSF’s Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program.

Proven grid technologies – such as the Globus toolkit for distributed computing, developed by Argonne and ISI – will be incorporated into the NEESgrid. Globus will allow researchers to seamlessly share experimental equipment, computational resources, and research data.

In addition, NEESgrid will include collaboration and teleoperation tools developed through NSF’s Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI) and Information Technology Research (ITR) initiatives and through the Department of Energy’s DOE2000 effort.