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Shakin' The House Down


7 February 2002

Shakin' The House Down

There'll be earthquakes in Canterbury over the next two months, and for earthquake enthusiast and engineering graduate, Jeff Matthews, the bigger the shake the better.

But the quakes will be no natural occurrence, Jeff and his University of Canterbury Department of Civil Engineering team will be simulating, then testing and measuring man-made earthquakes on a slice of a building representing a lower floor in a multi-storey pre-cast concrete building.

The aim is to find out just how much load and stress parts of a building, and in particular the pre-cast concrete structures will handle in the event of an earthquake.

Jeff Matthews' PhD research is funded through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology's Technology for Industry Fellowships scheme, which has enabled him to work alongside businesses such as Firth Industries and Stresscrete, who are keenly interested in the performance of concrete in construction.

Jeff is carrying out the research using the University's equipment and expanding his own background in earthquake engineering.

Recent events have highlighted the performance of buildings under stress, and the three-year research builds on New Zealand's internationally regarded expertise in earthquake engineering.

"We've used the same construction methods over the past 20 years in New Zealand and this is a unique opportunity to really test the entire structure and see how the building performs with pre-cast floor slabs," he says.

"We'll be using hydraulic rams to simulate the forces of a real earthquake and computer-tracking the action of the components in slow motion. What we want to find out is how much pre-cast concrete can take and still remain standing", says Jeff Matthews.

Len McSaveney, formerly of Stresscrete, one of the partner companies in the research project, says this research is significant as it is the first time an entire building structure has been tested in this way. Early results from the research were presented to a conference in Rotorua recently and earthquake-prone countries are following progress closely.


For more information: visit and check the current research page.

a.. Len McSaveney 09 523 3050, Jeff Matthews, 03 366 7001 ext 7332, 021 431 999 b.. Sue Pauwels, Technology New Zealand, at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (Christchurch office), 03 377 9340 or 025 497 114.

- Technology New Zealand is a set of government-funded business support schemes that provide funding to support R&D projects in business.

- TIF supports science and technology based projects that develop individuals skills and knowledge in commercial R&D environments. The aim is to enhance the level of science and technology based staff in participating firms.

- Support is provided in the form of salary or stipends for Fellows. These can range from senior undergraduate, through Master and PhDs, to senior scientist (eg, through secondments of staff from Universities or CRIs).

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