Carnegie Mellon University
November 07, 2013

CEE Senior Studies Earthquake Engineering in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)

CEE Senior Studies Earthquake Engineering in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)

REU students watch as a soft story wooden building is constructed on the outdoor shake table at UC San Diego.REU students watch as a soft story wooden building is constructed on the outdoor shake table at UC San Diego.

CEE senior Andrew Thorsen (BS CEE ’14) spent his summer conducting earthquake engineering research with the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) at Lehigh University. Recently, we caught up with Andrew to hear about his summer experience. 

CEE: Tell us what you worked on over the summer.

Andrew: I participated in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program on the topic of earthquake engineering. My specific research project was to develop a graphical user interface (GUI) using MATLAB. The GUI would perform change point analysis on time-ordered data. One particular application of this is to analyze vibration data from sensor networks on bridges to detect and locate damage. I also attended an orientation meeting at UC San Diego, and presented my research poster at the Quake Summit annual meeting at the University of Nevada, Reno.  

CEE: How did you get involved in the program?

Andrew: I searched for summer programs involving earthquake engineering, and this was one of several programs that I found. I applied to the program online and was accepted. The REU program was through the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). My host institution was Lehigh University, one of eight institutions participating in the REU program, and the principal investigator for my project was Dr. Shamim Pakzad of Lehigh. 

CEE: What was your favorite part of this research program?

Andrew: My favorite part of the experience was having seven other students working at Lehigh, each with a unique research project. I was able to help another student with range testing of wireless sensors, and I got to go into the lab and see several test specimens that other students were working on. Two students were working on a three-story scaled concrete building, and another student was working on a partially grouted reinforced masonry shear wall. So, while most of my attention was on my own project, I also got to learn about a wide range of projects in the field of earthquake engineering. Additionally, our group of students at Lehigh took recreational weekend trips to the Poconos and New York City. It was great to have other students to share the summer with.  

CEE: How do you think this experience has influenced your career goals?

Andrew: One valuable part of this program was that it gave me an idea of what research is like. As a result of this program, I’m considering a Master’s degree track that involves research. Also, the program was great in showing me the wide range of topics in earthquake engineering. At the Quake Summit annual meeting, I saw many technical workshop presentations, which gave me a taste of what subjects interest me. In particular, I was intrigued by a presentation on the geology of earthquakes, and one on seismic retrofits on bridges.

CEE: What CEE classes or faculty helped prepare you for this research position?

Andrew: Since my project mostly involved MATLAB programming, Introduction to Computer Applications in Civil Engineering, taught by Assistant Professor Mario Berges, was valuable because it gave me a base of experience with MATLAB so I had less to learn about it when I started my project. Also, Structural Design, taught by Visiting Instructor Jim Thompson, helped me understand many other projects I saw. While I did not use structural design concepts in my project, I was very glad to have taken that class because I could understand what other students were talking about when discussing their projects.  Structural design gave me the context to understand the concepts and goals that were prevalent around the whole program.  

CEE: What skills did you pick up or develop at NEES?

Andrew: The main skill I picked up was graphics programming. While I had programming experience, I didn’t know how to program graphical objects. I spent several weeks of the program learning how to do this, so I could apply that knowledge to my project. Also, I became more proficient in writing professional research papers, and working in a collaborative research environment. The collaboration occurred because my graduate student mentor had knowledge of change point analysis, and I had to obtain that knowledge from her and program the GUI in a way that she thought would best fit in with her research on change point analysis.

CEE: What did you find to be the most surprising or interesting part of your job? 

Andrew: The most surprising thing I experienced was the complexity and work that goes into some of the research projects. At UC San Diego, we toured their outdoor shake table, and saw a project in progress. They were building a full two-story soft story wooden building to test. It was amazing, because it looked just like a real building under construction, and all that work was going into it just to be torn down. That also impressed upon me the importance of the experiment being thoroughly designed so that the necessary data is collected from the test properly, because a redo isn’t really possible. Another test we saw was at the large test facility at University of Nevada, Reno. They had a section of highway bridge built inside, and had many cars lined up on top. The whole thing was built on top of a shake table for testing. The magnitude and level of these tests sure impressed me. 
Learn more about the 2013 NEES summer research program here.

Pictured above: CEE senior Andrew Thorsen stands with his poster at the Quake Summit Meeting poster session.