Italy earthquake damage CC UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Older buildings may get a new lease on life thanks to a new invention that lets them shake off the effects of an earthquake.

Much of the worst quake damage and injuries in recent years result from older buildings collapsing—that’s because modern buildings in earthquake zones are designed with devices called dampers or isolation units, which allow the buildings to sway on springs or slide on skids during earthquakes.

It’s impossible to retrofit old buildings with much of that technology, but a new form of protection may be on the way.Group Home Girls Nepal Earthquake Nurse Unatti Foundation Facebook Photo

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Researchers at the University of Brighton in the UK have come up with a “vibrating barrier” (ViBa) that absorbs the energy from an earthquake and protects older buildings.

The device is a solid weight balanced on a series of springs. The ViBa isn’t attached directly to a building’s walls or skeleton, but buried in the ground and connected to its foundation.

When the ground motion from a quake hits the building, the energy passes through the foundation to the ViBa instead of into the structure itself. The ViBa’s heavy weight moves around on the springs, absorbing up to 80% of the ground motion from the quake.Screen Shot Reachi Device Masters Thesis PDF

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One of its inventors, Piefrancesco Cacciola, grew up in Messina, Sicily, which was mostly destroyed by a major quake more than a hundred years ago.

“I always worked in the field of Earthquake Engineering hoping one day such disasters will never happen again,” he told Forbes. “We cannot stop earthquakes but we might control the vibrations of the structures we build.”

Cacciola has co-authored two papers on the ViBa in Proceedings of the Royal Society and in the journal Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering.

Photo: UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences, CC

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