Courtesy of Scott Kaufman

March 13, 2017

Cornell’s Seismic Design Team Judged Best in Worldwide Competition

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Cornell University outperformed Stanford University and California State Polytechnic University while unseating three-time winner Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania during the 2017 EERI Seismic Design Competition in Portland, Oregon this Friday.

The annual Seismic Design Competition is a week-long event organized by the Student Leadership Council, which is a part of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute. The aim of the competition is to provide undergraduate students with “practical experience in the earthquake engineering field,” according to the website.

During the competition, each team had to ensure its building survived three-different categories of ground motions, which the team’s captain Scott Kaufman ’18 called “a nervous yet exciting time.” The teams whose buildings did not survive the shake test were automatically knocked down to a lower category.

This is what happened to the Cornellians who came in 21st in 2015, and Kaufman and his team members were not ready to relive that experience.

Last year, the team placed third in the competition, and Kaufman said that this year’s win is commendable considering that it is only the fourth year that Cornell has participated in the competition.

“In only four competitions we’ve gotten to first place,” Kaufman said. “It is a truly remarkable feat. In our first year we got ninth place, after that we had a setback. Last year we managed to come third, and since then, we have been pushing forward.”

Zoe Chan ’18, who is the head of publicity for the project team, mentioned that while she was proud of what the team had achieved, there was a degree of difficulty involved in producing a poster that engaged a larger audience.

“It is important for the poster to combine the architectural renderings and designs to convey information and still be aesthetically pleasing, which can often be tough,” Chan said. “Our poster managed to do that effectively, and that’s why we won.”

Juan Meriles ’18, the design lead of the team, added that he had put in over 130 hours of work to ensure the predictions for the model would be correct just within the past two months. While the predictions were higher than what were obtained during the competition, he saw this as scope for improvement.

“We did very well in most categories this year, but in predictions we ranked around 15th. When the model returns, I plan on testing it to see why my predictions went wrong so that we can come first in every category,” said Meriles, who now plans on majoring in Earthquake Engineering due to his work on the project team.

When asked what the team did different and better this year, Meriles explained that a scripted performance, a well-timed presentation and the fact that other engineers do not do too well in public speaking in general contributed to the success of the team’s presentation.

For the year ahead, Kaufman said that he is looking forward to maintaining the good standard under his leadership, but for now, he is excited about “getting there [to the first position] in the first place.”