URI engineer heads to New Zealand to evaluate building foundations in wake of earthquake

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Aim is to learn how to improve future foundation designs

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 28, 2011 – A University of Rhode Island civil engineering professor is headed to Christchurch, New Zealand on Sunday as part of the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance team to evaluate the performance of building foundations so future foundations can be better engineered to withstand the stresses from major earthquakes.

Aaron Bradshaw, who just joined the faculty of the URI Department of Civil Engineering in January, is one of six engineers from the United States who aim to collect geotechnical engineering data before demolition and reconstruction begins during the one-week trip.

“We’re hoping to learn what we can from this disaster in hopes of improving foundation designs in the future,” said Bradshaw, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees from URI and now lives in Bellingham, Mass.

The reconnaissance team will be examining a variety of issues related to the affect the earthquake had on buildings. Bradshaw’s focus will be on determining how and why some foundations failed while others remained intact.

“It’s going to be like an engineering Special Ops trip,” Bradshaw said. “We can’t bring large pieces of equipment, so we’re going to have to make do with the basics and learn as much as we can in a short period of time.”

Bradshaw was selected for the reconnaissance team because of his experience designing building foundations in the seismically active region of Seattle and because of his background studying soil liquefaction, a phenomenon in which the strength and stiffness of a soil is reduced by earthquake shaking. The leader of the team is Russell Green, a civil engineer at Virginia Tech who served on Bradshaw’s dissertation committee at URI.

“I have knowledge and background on the practice of foundation design, but this trip is all about a forensic analysis of foundations, which will be a new experience for me,” Bradshaw said.

Photo: Christchurch quake, 2011-02-22, Tim Musson