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The University at Buffalo will build a state-of-the-art engineering laboratory, including huge "shake tables" to determine how buildings and bridges respond during earthquakes, thanks to $16.5 million in state and federal grants.

The National Science Foundation's approval of two grants totaling $10.5 million was announced Saturday by Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, during a news conference in Ketter Hall on the North Campus.

Gov. George E. Pataki announced the state is giving UB an additional $6 million for the project, which is expected to put the university in the international forefront of earthquake engineering research.

"In light of last week's tragedy in India, the upgrade of UB's earthquake engineering facility proves crucial," said Quinn, referring to the tragedy that killed an estimated 25,000 people. "The center will help scientists better determine the effects on buildings of this devastating natural disaster."

"The cutting-edge research that UB will be able to perform will yield very precise information on how large structures react to seismic activity, which, in turn, will save thousands of lives," added UB President William R. Greiner.

One of the federal grants will provide $6.16 million to construct versatile, high-performance shake tables that are used to determine the ability of structures to withstand the shock produced by earthquakes.

The second federal grant of $4.38 million will be used to build a large-scale, high-performance testing facility.

The new facility will house twin shake tables capable of testing structures, like bridges, up to 120 feet long. New dynamic and static actuators will produce up to 1.7 million pounds of force to allow high-speed, high-load dynamic testing.

The new facility will offer engineers the first opportunity to test full-size structures in real time, said Andrei Reinhorn, an engineering professor.

"You cannot bring a skyscraper into a laboratory," he said. "But with this new facility and new technology, we will be able to obtain extremely accurate information on how real structures behave during earthquakes without having to make the extraordinary expenditures of resources that would be required to build facilities huge enough to test whole buildings."

"The ultimate benefit," said Professor Michel Bruneau, project director, "will be new technologies that can better protect people and property from the kind of devastation wrought by major earthquakes, such as the one that occurred in India on Jan. 26."

Pataki said the funding "will further enhance UB's reputation as one of the nation's finest academic research institutions."

The state money, funneled through the State University of New York Construction Fund, will be used to build an addition to Ketter Hall to house new testing equipment and facilities.

Greiner said approval of the federal grants is "signal recognition of UB's leading role in the world's earthquake-engineering research efforts."

"It will make this UB facility No. 1 in the world," added Quinn, who said there was stiff competition for the federal dollars.

Quinn said the money was secured through the efforts of the area congressional delegation, including Rep. John J. Lafalce, D-Kenmore, and Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence.

Ultimately, he said, the investment will "help save lives and protect property through the important earthquake engineering studies being conducted at the school."

The design of the facility, Greiner said, "is a feat of engineering" that demonstrates "great science, great engineering and great economy."

Though the new facilities and equipment will be used by the university's Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering, the federal grants are earmarked for the UB Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

Construction is scheduled for completion in 2004.

Though the project will not immediately produce jobs other than those associated with the construction, Greiner said the new and upgraded facilities will ultimately attract research grants that will create jobs.

UB's earthquake research, which began about 15 years ago, also has created new employment in spinoff industries in Western New York and is expected to create more new jobs.

For instance, Taylor Devices, North Tonawanda, has increased its employment from 38 people in 1990 to 110 today because of its association with UB's earthquake research.

Douglas P. Taylor, company president, said that during that period the company's sales have increased from $4 million to $12 million annually and "90 percent of that is attributed to UB."

Taylor Devices manufactures huge shock absorbers that go into the walls of skyscrapers and foundations of bridges to protect them from earthquakes. Projects that have used the shock absorbers include the Tri-Borough Bridge in Manhattan and two new 40-story office towers just built in Boston.

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