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Professor teaches engineers lessons from Taiwan quake


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February 14, 2003

SFSU engineering professor Wenshen Pong has been chosen for the Wang Family Faculty Award for his study of seismic structures and technology in Taiwan. He was one of four faculty members in the 23-campus California State University system to receive the annual honor. Established in 2000 through a grant from CSU Trustee Stanley T. Wang, the award carries a $10,000 stipend for academic work in Taiwan or mainland China.

Pong, who has taught structural engineering at SFSU since 1998, was recognized for his proposal to compare design and construction practices between Taiwan and California. In 1999 a powerful quake pummeled Taiwan, leaving 2,300 dead and more than 10,000 buildings in ruin. Pong believes there are lessons to be learned on both sides of the Pacific.

Working with Taiwanese colleagues, Pong will do a six-week residence this summer in Taiwan, which is also his birth country. There he will analyze data on seismic structures and evaluate how Taiwan's building code can better incorporate state-of-the-art seismic standards and technologies.

He notes that many buildings that collapsed were not aging structures, but ones built in the 1980s and 1990s. One reason, he suspects, was a gap between engineering standards and construction practices. "Even though the design procedures may be more modern in newer buildings," he says, "the construction really did not greatly improve" as builders tried to minimize their costs.

the skeleton of a building with seismic dampers Part of his research will be to verify the structural and economic viability of the seismic dampers (pictured right), devices which can be mounted inside walls to improve a building's resilience to motion. Like shock absorbers on a car or bicycle, the long, narrow dampers lengthen and shorten when a building shakes. Their controlled motion helps stabilize buildings, and according to Pong, research indicates they may be able to absorb up to 80 percent of the energy moving through a building during a quake.

Pong, a practicing engineer before taking his post at SFSU, also plans to use insights from his Taiwan studies to get his students more involved in seismic engineering. He is developing a new seismic engineering curriculum so that students will be "more educated and prepared to be structural engineers in the Bay Area," he says.

The Wang Family Scholarship is administered by the Academic Affairs Division of the California State University. Each year the award provides an opportunity for four talented and distinguished CSU faculty and students to study, research and teach at top universities in Taiwan and China.

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Last modified February 14, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs