Civil engineering students Jaden Gallegos ’18, Monica Julian ’18 and Clayton Malcomb had just two semesters to build the skyscraper of the future. As competitors in the 2018 Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) Seismic Design Competition, the group was challenged to create a model of a tower that could withstand earthquake-like conditions.
The biggest challenge? That the team of three had to compete against 40 other teams from around the world, some with 20 to 50 student members. The Rice group began the planning phase of the project last fall and traveled to Los Angeles in June to present their completed tower, “Sapphire Square”. The competition was held in conjunction with the EERI National Conference, where Reginald DesRoches, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering at Rice, delivered an address as part of the 2018 EERI Distinguished Lecturer Award he received this spring.
“I was so proud of the design that our Rice team developed for the seismic-design competition,” DesRoches said. “In addition to having a beautiful building, their structure was able to withstand all of the earthquake shaking that it was given as part of the testing sequence. The team represented Rice very well!”
Having attended in previous years, the students were able to take home valuable advice from past competitions and put it to good use. The group also analyzed recent successes — and failures — and built on them.
“Two years ago we had a model that was very sturdy and was a similar design to what we chose this year, but when we got to the competition it was overweight per the rules,” Malcomb said. “We were still able to shake it and see good results, and that influenced our design selection this year.”
“There are different plans for design each year, based on the set guidelines,” he added. “Every team does something completely different. It’s up to us to find the optimal way to design the lightest and most efficient tower that will have the best seismic performance.”
When asked to name the most rewarding part of the competition, the students unanimously cited the opportunity to meet peers from around the world and receive feedback from competitors and judges.
“Each time you go, you meet different people,” said Julian. “I like meeting all the people from the different colleges and learning about their experience. The models can vary a lot, so you can talk to your competitors about why they chose to go with their model. It’s something we break down and progress on the next year.”
Gallegos agreed: “It’s good to be able to share this passion and interest with others, and then to go to the competition and meet people interested in your same field. It’s a pretty positive experience.”
Malcomb found the experience gratifying in other ways: “I learned a lot about my own leadership capabilities and managing deadlines. The competition is very rewarding because you get to meet students from universities all over the world, and network with industry professionals, people passionate about structural and earthquake engineering.”
They encourage others to get involved in the competition next year, and advise students interested in civil and environmental engineering to talk with as many people as they can, to get an understanding of the breadth of the field.
“It’s an interesting major because CEVE is such a diverse field,” Julian said. “Most other engineering divisions have different branches, but they’re much more closely related. There’s a lot of opportunity in CEVE.”