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Florida Team Wins First MCEER Undergraduate Seismic Design Competition

team members stand with their balsa structure

The winning team from Florida A&M University. From left: Zaneta Adme, MCEER Diversity Director Makola Abdullah, Karla Villarreal, Wally Barnawi, Andrea Smith, Marlon Hill and Andrea Jones, Team Captain

Five teams of undergraduate students converged in Buffalo on January 29 to put their structures to the test during MCEER’s first annual Seismic Design Competition for Undergraduates.

The Florida A&M University team was the winner, with a 9 point lead over the second place team from the University of Nevada Reno. The other three teams were from the City College of New York, New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University at Buffalo.

Judged by MCEER’s Deputy Director Andre Filiatrault (University of Buffalo), Diversity Director Makola Abdullah (Florida A&M University) and Education Director S. Thevanayagam (University at Buffalo), criteria included economics, performance, workmanship, construction cost, and technical presentation.

The competition began in September 2004, when the teams formally began the planning, design and construction of their own 15 story balsa wood model of an office building. Guided by faculty and SLC members, the undergraduates were introduced to the basic concepts of structural dynamics, seismic protection systems, and structural analysis and design.
two young men attach their model to the shake table

Members of the University of Nevada-Reno team prepare their model for testing.

The buildings they constructed showcased some truly inventive and carefully designed structural systems. Four of the five teams used base isolation systems constructed out of tennis balls in combination with springs, marbles and soda can bottoms, sliding lubricated plates, and rubber band systems with sliding surfaces. The one fixed base structure used walls and a cantilevered floor system to maximize open floor space. Competition rules, photographs of the buildings, videos, and performance plots under the ground motions, as well as results for all judging categories can be found on the SLC website at

The Florida A&M University (FAMU) team received its award during a banquet in the evening at the University Inn. Dr. Abdullah provided an inspirational talk encouraging the undergraduates to reach for the sky and consider graduate school.

The FAMU team traveled to Berkeley, California on April 30 to compete in the Tri-Center competition against teams from PEER and MAE. The team placed second, and a complete review of the event will appear in the next issue of the Bulletin.

MCEER would like to thank all the undergraduates who participated; their enthusiasm was contagious and really carried the day. MCEER would also like to thank the SLC members and faculty who assisted the undergraduates in their designs and the technical staff from the Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL) at the University at Buffalo for conducting the shake table tests of the structures. This was a worthwhile endeavor that certainly laid the groundwork for future competitions in the coming years.

-Submitted by Jeffrey Berman, University at Buffalo.

The Bulletin is a free publication offering articles on Center research, cooperative ventures, reports from conferences, educational activities, upcoming events, and reviews of new MCEER publications Spring 2005

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