Tori Trexel, a senior civil engineering major, was excited about heading to Portland for this year’s Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) Seismic Design Competition. She’d never been there, and it was on her list of places to see. She and five members of Rice’s Seismic Design Team made the trip.
“I was on the team that went to San Francisco last year, and I learned so much, being part of it and watching the other teams. I was impressed by the teams like Stanford, Cluj-Napoca [a university in Romania], and Berkeley. A lot of the teams had 15 or more people and built multiple models to test before the competition.”
This year’s Rice team placed second for architectural design; 12th for communication, which included the team’s design proposal, slideshow presentation, and poster; and 26th overall. Trexl and the eight members of Rice’s team spent much of the spring in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen designing their structure, then building a plywood crate for shipping it to the competition. The annual challenge has engineering students build a balsa-wood structure they think will withstand three earthquake simulations. At the competition, the structure is placed on a shake table, and teams are assessed by their structure’s performance, their architectural design, and their presentation and communication skills. Rice was one of 33 universities from 14 states and six countries to compete.
“Every year, the competition gives teams a set of technical aspects and economic considerations, and the winner is ultimately chosen as the building with the highest annual income,” said Trexel. “This year, we had to build a structure that would take into account things like soil conditions along the Willamette River in downtown Portland, and the fault lines and subduction zone that affect the area."
In order to be invited to the competition in March, teams have to submit a 5-page design proposal in the fall.
In addition to building a structure that will be tested, teams also have to do a slideshow presentation and create a poster explaining their design process and structural analysis method.
“We were told we could build a structure that was between 16 and 29 floors, at a scale of 2 inches per floor height,” said Trexel. “Ours goes the full 29 floors to increase our building income. It’s 60 inches tall.
Trexel spent the first two and a half years of her Rice career as an architecture major — the Seismic Design Team is made up of engineers and architects — and switched to civil engineering after discovering she really liked delving into the problem-solving aspect of the subject. After she took CEVE 101, she was hooked for good. She also liked that she could continue designing structures, which is what originally drew her to architecture.
“I feel that having background in both architecture and civil engineering makes me a stronger engineer,” she said. After she graduates, she’s looking to work for a structural engineering company, but is planning to eventually get her master’s degree in earthquake engineering.
“It was a great experience. The team really bonded, and I could see how our younger members grew in their knowledge and their public speaking skills. I’m really happy with how we placed in our communication and architecture categories, and proud of how hard our team worked. The structure wasn’t as rigid as we anticipated during shake tests, which makes a great learning experience for us to build on next year. I’m really grateful for our sponsors and advisors who mentored and encouraged us throughout this process, and I look forward to seeing how the team does next year in L.A.”
Seismic Design Team members who attended the competition were Tori Trexel, senior, CEE/ARCH; CEE majors Clayton Malcomb, junior; Jaden Gallegos, junior; Monica Julian, junior; Jordan Wheeler, sophomore; and Caroline Brigham, senior, ARCH.
Other team members are CEE majors Ethan Marks, junior; Zach Kortum, sophomore; and Christina Rincon, freshman.
Team advisors are Associate Professor Jamie Padgett, CEE; and CEE graduate students Sabarethinam Kameshwar, Navya Vishnu (also Rice EERI Club president), and Roger Paredes.