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O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory
O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory

5 Machines that Simulate Natural Disasters

O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory
O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory

Natural disasters can strike at any time, causing huge loss of life and billions of dollars in damage. Scientists are using these machines to help us be better prepared.

1. UC San Diego Jacobs School Shake Table

If you were the kind of kid who liked to build houses out of blocks then knock them down, consider enrolling or getting a job at UC San Diego, where scientists do that kind of thing pretty often: They build full-sized structures on top of a 25 x 40-foot table—the largest in the country—then shake it to see how well different types of construction, various kinds of materials, and retrofits to existing buildings might stand up in a quake.

The $5.9 million hydraulically-driven machine can vibrate at 6 feet per second with a maximum force of 4.2 Gs. The machine has been used to test everything from “wind turbines, to masonry, wood-frame and precast concrete buildings, as well as non-structural building elements, such as stairs, elevators and even hospital equipment,” according to a school press release. You can watch the table shake a 4-story 1920s-style building retrofitted with cross-laminated timber above.

2. Iowa State University Tornado Simulator

This first-of-its-kind machine, which opened in 2004, consists of two parts: a huge cylinder, suspended from a 5-ton crane, that contains a 6-foot-wide fan; and a test bed that can be raised and lowered. Scientists construct model towns on the test bed, then fire up the fan—which creates a tornado-like vortex with 55mph winds—and move it over the “town.” The machine’s sheer size allows scientists to build bigger model structures, creating a more realistic version of what might happen in an actual tornado.

3. and 4. Oregon State University’s Tsunami Basin and Large Wave Flume

The O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory at Oregon State University has a pair of wave-generating machines. The 160-foot-long, 87-foot-wide, and 7-foot-deep Directional Tsunami Wavemaker is equipped with electric motors and uses pistons to push out 29 waveboards to create tsunami-like waves.

The Large Wave Flume (the largest in North America) measures 342 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 15 feet deep, and can create waves 5 feet high. In both structures, scientists study the effects of the kinds of waves seen in nature on models of everything from buildings to telephone poles to levees. Recent research done using the machines showed that coastal forests might help mitigate tsunami damage.

5. Florida International University’s “Wall of Wind” Hurricane Simulator

This massive, $8 million machine consists of 12 fans, each 6 feet in diameter and 700hp, that can generate winds up to 157 mph—the kinds of winds you’d see in a Category 5 hurricane. At peak flow, the system pumps as much air as 7650 leaf blowers. In one demonstration, the FIU team built two structures: One built to code before 1992's Hurricane Andrew, and one built with codes created after. According to the Miami Herald,

The first things to go were roof shingles but pre-Andrew designs, rated for just 60 mph, held up nearly as well as heavier products rated for 130 mph. Half of the supposedly stronger shingles began peeling away as the digital wind gauge hit 109 mph, just Cat 2 strength. But as the wind increased, there was no comparison between old and new. At Cat 3, the older design lost half the tar paper intended to keep out rain. At Cat 4, a whole section of thinner plywood sheathing began buckling furiously, then flew off in a flash.

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NASA/JPL, YouTube
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Space
Watch NASA Test Its New Supersonic Parachute at 1300 Miles Per Hour
NASA/JPL, YouTube
NASA/JPL, YouTube

NASA’s latest Mars rover is headed for the Red Planet in 2020, and the space agency is working hard to make sure its $2.1 billion project will land safely. When the Mars 2020 rover enters the Martian atmosphere, it’ll be assisted by a brand-new, advanced parachute system that’s a joy to watch in action, as a new video of its first test flight shows.

Spotted by Gizmodo, the video was taken in early October at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Narrated by the technical lead from the test flight, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ian Clark, the two-and-a-half-minute video shows the 30-mile-high launch of a rocket carrying the new, supersonic parachute.

The 100-pound, Kevlar-based parachute unfurls at almost 100 miles an hour, and when it is entirely deployed, it’s moving at almost 1300 miles an hour—1.8 times the speed of sound. To be able to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere, the parachute generates almost 35,000 pounds of drag force.

For those of us watching at home, the video is just eye candy. But NASA researchers use it to monitor how the fabric moves, how the parachute unfurls and inflates, and how uniform the motion is, checking to see that everything is in order. The test flight ends with the payload crashing into the ocean, but it won’t be the last time the parachute takes flight in the coming months. More test flights are scheduled to ensure that everything is ready for liftoff in 2020.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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architecture
German Nonprofit Gives $1.1 Million to Restore World’s First Iron Bridge in England
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The UK’s Iron Bridge is more than just a pretty landmark. Built in 1779, it was the world’s first metal bridge, a major milestone in engineering history. Like many aging pieces of infrastructure, though, it’s in dire need of repair—and the funds to shore it up are coming from an unexpected place. According to The Times, a German foundation has pledged to pay for the conservation project as a way to improve relations between England and Germany in the wake of Brexit.

Based in Hamburg, the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation normally funds cultural projects in Germany, but decided to work with the UK’s charitable trust English Heritage to save the Industrial Revolution landmark as a way to reinforce the cultural bond between the two countries. The foundation has pledged more than $1.16 million to the bridge's renovation effort, which will cost an estimated $4.7 million in total. Now, the UK charity only has to raise another $32,800 to fully fund the work.

The Iron Bridge was cast and built by Abraham Darby III, whose grandfather became the first mass-producer of cast iron in the UK in the early 1700s, kickstarting England's Industrial Revolution. It was the world’s first cast iron, single-span arch bridge, weighing more than 400 tons. In 1934, it was declared a historic monument and closed to traffic, and the Ironbridge Gorge was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

“The Iron Bridge is one of the most important—if not the most important—bridges ever built,” English Heritage CEO Kate Mavor told the press.

The techniques used to erect the Iron Bridge were later adopted throughout Europe, including in Germany, leading the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation to call it “a potent reminder of our continent's common cultural roots and values.”

The already-underway repair project includes replacing elements of the bridge, cleaning and repairing others, and painting the entire structure. Since it sits above a fast-flowing river where erecting scaffolding is difficult, the project is especially complex. It’s scheduled to be completed in 2018.

[h/t The Times]

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