Prestigious CAREER Award Will Help Engineering Professor Better Understand How Earthquakes Impact Foundations

Tara Hutchinson, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) of $430,000. Hutchinson will use the five year grant to study a phenomena known as liquefaction, and particularly its impact on flexible pile foundations during intense earthquake shaking. Liquefaction-induced damage has been extensive in recent earthquakes, such as the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake in Japan and the 1999 Koceali earthquake in Turkey.

Liquefaction occurs primarily in loose sandy soils, where a high water table exists. During seismic-induced loading, water pressure within the soil mass increases, potentially reducing the strength of the soil to that of a liquid. Both the above and below ground portion of any structure founded on these types of soils are extremely vulnerable to damage.

"The objective of this study is to characterize the severity and extent of damage to pile foundations using both experimental and numerical modeling techniques," said Hutchinson. "Experimental studies will utilize the school's large biaxial shaking table and dense arrays of advanced instrumentation, where soil-pile specimens will be subjected to progressively increasing amplitudes of earthquake shaking. The results of this research will fill a vital gap in performance-based earthquake engineering of foundation systems."

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program offers the NSF's most prestigious awards for new faculty members. The aim of the program is to recognize and support the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.