The University of Texas at San Antonio has been chosen to act as a member of the network coordination office strategic committee for the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) grant. The National Science Foundation is investing $62 million over the next five years into the NHERI grant, which will explore how to limit the damage done to engineering structures by natural disasters.
JoAnn Browning, dean of the UTSA College of Engineering, expressed pride in UTSA being chosen for a leadership role in such a large-scale grant.
“The competition is fierce for these large grants,” Browning said. “Everyone who is a player in the earthquake engineering and now the wind engineering community wants to be a part of one of these leading grants. To be chosen means that there is confidence in UTSA from the community.”
UTSA is a leader in the team overseeing all of the universities involved in the grant while working to promote the grant’s mission. The other universities working on the NHERI grant are The University of California at Davis, Florida International University, The University of Florida, Lehigh University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, The University of California at San Diego, The University of Texas at Austin, The University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Washington.
Dean Browning says the impact the NHERI grant will have on UTSA as a whole will be tremendous.
“This grant puts UTSA forward as a leader of one of the largest civil engineering grants in the country,” Browning said. “It examines our nation’s infrastructure and how we can make it resilient to natural hazards. Having the name of UTSA associated with that large of a grant makes other institutions realize that UTSA is now a player.”
Karina Vielma-Cumpian, research fellow and education specialist at UTSA, utilizes her role within NHERI to connect the research to those outside of academia.
“My role in NHERI is to facilitate the coordination and communication of education and community outreach efforts across the NHERI network,” Vielma-Cumpian said. “These activities are especially important because they connect the research work with the practical applications and educational opportunities for those outside academia.”
In addition to the worldwide implications of the research itself, the NHERI grant will also give UTSA an opportunity to host a summer institute that will bring educators and students of all levels together.
”Since we are leading the education and community outreach component we will be bringing people from all around the country to UTSA for a summer institute, from K-12 teachers to world-renowned researchers,” Browning said. “We will be able to contribute things to the San Antonio community and help figure out how to get engineering concepts into classrooms of all levels.”
Each university will serve a unique purpose to NHERI. At Florida Internal University a “wall of wind” has been constructed in order to help better understand the impact that hurricane force winds have on structures. At UC Davis, the campus’ geotechnical modeling center is being used in combination with centrifuges and shake tables to gain new understanding into the effects of earthquakes on a variety of structures.
The research completed at the individual universities will be examined by the UTSA-coordinated technology transfer team, which includes experts across the nation who will promote the findings for a variety of purposes including writing building codes and determining directives for how certain structures are built.
The University of Texas will utilize five large-scale shakers that are used to simulate earthquakes. UT will also be the site for handling the cyber infrastructure side of the grant. The data from the experiments and research being performed at all the universities involved in NHERI will be stored for future use by the University of Texas in a cloud storage format. Researchers wishing to access the data may do so by joining https://www.designsafe-ci.org/.
Browning noted that the research will have far-reaching implications on the way society is able to respond to and handle natural disasters.
“The primary objective is to reduce hazards so that we are saving lives,” Browning said. “As we make our infrastructure more resilient, that makes it safe for the inhabitants during those events.”
While the NHERI grant focuses primarily on engineering studies, the data gathered can be applicable to many elements of natural disaster response.
“It’s not just infrastructure,” Browning said. “It’s public policy. It’s how we reach out to society and make people aware of how to stay safe in these events. It’s how can we structure our reaction time and responses to be more effective. There are a lot of pieces that come together.”
Working with top-notch universities from around the country on a grant of this scale shows the continuous growth of UTSA on the journey to becoming a Tier 1 institution.
“The visibility alone gives us credibility,” Browning said. “It opens a lot of doors for us to be able to be successful on a national scale. As we recruit graduate students they are looking to be a part of these types of projects.”