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UC earthquake researcher receives PM’s science honour

A University of Canterbury professor leading worldwide research into the effects of ground-shaking caused by earthquakes has been presented with one of New Zealand’s top science prizes.

Professor Brendon Bradley, at age 30 one of the New Zealand’s youngest professors, has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize. The University of Canterbury Civil and Natural Resources Engineering Professor in Earthquake Engineering receives $200,000 – $150,000 of which is to be used for further research.

His research, which is already being used to set new building design codes internationally, and places emphasis on more robust designs for buildings and infrastructure of critical importance, such as hospitals, telecommunications headquarters and office blocks occupied by large numbers of workers. Several major rebuilding projects in Christchurch are being influenced by his findings, with an expected trickle-down effect as these new, advanced methods of engineering become the norm.

Prof Bradley has received numerous national and international accolades for his seismic hazard analysis and his nomination for the Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist was judged only weeks before last year’s Kaikoura earthquake. That earthquake continues to highlight the important role of earthquake scientists and engineers in New Zealand.

Prof Bradley’s prize recognises his sophisticated seismic hazard analysis and assessment modelling, and pioneering ground motion simulation to identify and mitigate the effects of earthquakes.

“It’s about investing more money where the risk is greater, investing less where the risk is lower and taking into account the function of the building,” he says.

Prof Bradley believes New Zealanders should focus on the social and economic disruption of earthquakes more than the risk of human casualties, which is low compared to other risks we face every day. He says we can take some comfort from knowing that the high-quality earthquake research he and his team are doing is among the best in the world.

Some of the research on engineering solutions to improve earthquake resilience is having spinoff benefits for other infrastructure operating in day-to-day conditions, such as more robust electricity networks with fewer power outages and stronger stopbanks to withstand floods.

The prize-winning academic researcher says New Zealand is fortunate to have a high level of insurance cover to cope with recent earthquakes but could become vulnerable if it follows the example of California and Japan where insurance cover has been significantly reduced.

“We could be exposed if there is too much reliance on insurance instead of investing in more seismic-resilient infrastructure.”

Being prepared is also essential, Prof Bradley says. Those living in urbanised areas such as Auckland and Wellington, where people tend to shop daily and have minimal supplies of stored food, may struggle to support themselves immediately after a serious earthquake.

The international researcher is on sabbatical at Stanford University in California, USA, where he is collaborating with others in writing a textbook that outlines the level of resilience required for buildings to withstand various earthquake magnitudes. Prof Bradley is also Deputy-Director of QuakeCoRE.

The 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes were presented to winners on March 21 at the Grand Hall, Parliament Building, in Wellington.

To find out more about the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes visit:

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