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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Civil and Environmental Engineering News – Fall 2015

Students get real-world view of shaking quakes

Coughlin Porter Lundeen logoStudents in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will gain improved understanding of how to design for earthquakes, thanks to a donation from employees of Coughlin Porter Lundeen (CPL), a Seattle engineering firm.

The donation supports an upgrade to the teaching earthquake table to help students better visualize how structures move in earthquakes. Students will use the table in the earthquake engineering and structural dynamics class as well as in the geotechnical earthquake engineering course.

“We thought this would be a perfect opportunity to enhance the classroom experience in regard to dynamic structures and earthquake design,” said Jim Coughlin, principal with CPL.

Every year the firm solicits donations from its employees, many of whom are WSU alumni. The company then matches the gift.

Especially in earthquake-prone Seattle, designing for earthquakes is what engineers do on a daily basis. Company engineers use computerized tools to model buildings in an iterative process, and it’s crucial that students not only understand the tools, but also understand what the numbers mean.

“When we hire a new graduate, especially a master’s graduate, we expect them to have the understanding of how to calculate for earthquake forces, how to distribute the forces to the various lateral elements, and how to design those elements for earthquake forces,” he said. “It goes hand in hand with designing a building.”

The earthquake table will allow students to model different structural elements and see how changes affect the behavior of the building. Often in the real-world workplace, there are competing demands that affect the geometry of a building and can complicate its design. The goal is for the structural engineer to collaborate with the design team to maximize the aesthetic and functional aspects of the building while maintaining an economical and safe structural design.

The earthquake table will allow students to see a structure as it shakes and will bring home the importance of what they’re doing, he said.

“When you have a visual tool, it really helps the students to understand it and generates their interest,” he said. “Rather than just reading about it in a book, watching it like that really sticks with you.”

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering program is thankful for the generous annual gifts made by Coughlin Porter Lundeen that helps us to continuously enhance student experience in the classroom and laboratories.