skip navigation

2012 Tech Wars Competition Features Seismic Design Competition

Involvement of CSEE Students Significantly Improve Model Construction and Evaluation Criteria

More than 900 middle and high school students from 29 school districts from Western New York gathered at Niagara County Community College (NCCC) on January 11, 2012 for Tech Wars, an annual technology-based student competition presented by the Western New York Technology Education Association (WNYTEA).

Thanks to the efforts of MCEER’s Education & Information Specialist Andrew McNeil and Barker Central School District Technology Education Teacher Tom Mallon, the Seismic Design Competition is now an established addition to Tech Wars. The competition challenges teams of high school students to design and build seismic resilient structures.

Members of the Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering Graduate Student Association (CSEE-GSA) at the University at Buffalo (UB) were very involved in planning and carrying out this year's competition. Among those who participated were Maria Cortes-Delgado, Afsoon Nicknam, Armin Masroor, Siamak Epackachi, Maria Koliou, Zahra Lotfian and Mohammad Hamidia. Prior to the competition, the graduate students worked with McNeil and Sofia Tangalos, also from MCEER's Information Service, to define the evaluation criteria and to improve the event with the addition of sophisticated tools.

“We decided we could improve the evaluation criteria by using some of the parameters we as structural engineers use to evaluate buildings,” Maria Cortes-Delgado said. The test set-up was then designed with these parameters in mind, specifically construction cost and acceleration.

On the day of the competition, the graduate students measured the lengths of the beams, columns and braces to define the construction cost of each structure. To measure acceleration, the structures were hooked up to accelerometers and were subjected to two ground motions on a portable shake table. These ground motions replicated two major earthquakes: California's El Centro back in 1940 and the Kobe earthquake in Japan in 1995. They were measured at three different points of the building: top level, mid height (typical floor) and ground level. The collected data was then evaluated to determine the best scoring structures. This year's Seismic Design Competition consisted of 11 teams with an average of three to four students each.

“With this experience, the students learn that science, math and engineering are fields that matter to society and are also fun,” Cortes-Delgado added.

McNeil said the students' structures fared very well in the challenge, which is modeled on the annual EERI Undergraduate Seismic Design Competition, and is a collaborative effort among MCEER's Information Service, CSEE/GSA, UB's Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL), and Baker Central School District's Mallon.

“The goal of the competition is to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real world application,” McNeil said. “It gives students the opportunity to do something they couldn't do in a classroom and see the type of research that's done at UB.”