Engineering students set to shake up national competition

A group of SF State civil engineering majors, dubbed the SeismiGators, will be shaking things up at a national competition next week, going against teams from universities across the country to see whose model building is most seismically sound.

Three members of the SeismiGators team glue together pieces of balsa wood to create a five-foot tall, seismically sound structure for a national competition.

Members of the SeismiGators team work to create a seismically sound structure for a national competition. (Photo courtesy of SeismiGators)

The SeismiGators' five-foot structure -- their senior design project -- is made of balsa wood, each piece placed by hand, and has taken a year to construct.

The group first modeled their design using computer software, then laser cut each piece and built and rebuilt the structure after multiple seismic tests -- and crashes.

The SeismiGators' model building

Their final product will face the ultimate test in the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s Undergraduate Design Competition in Boston from March 31 to April 3.

The structure will be subjected to a series of shaking simulations, based on actual recorded earthquake measurements, scaling up in intensity to a violent quake. While previous incarnations of the SeismiGators' structure have toppled under similar tests, team captain Fiorella Vasquez is confident that subsequent improvements make it a strong competitor.

But even if their model doesn't stand up to the competition, the effort will have been worth it.

"I feel very proud of our work," Vasquez said. "And of course the recognition of participating in a national competition and the opportunity to promote the school are great motivators. I'm curious to see what other schools have designed -- it's definitely a chance to share and learn from one another."

-- Beth Tagawa