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MIT Sustainability Hub Models Structures

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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A researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Concrete Sustainability Hub is examining how to predict building damage by modeling structures into groups of atoms.

In the study, which deals with what is referred to as “molecular dynamics-based structural modeling,” Ph.D. candidate Kostas Keremidis hopes that by constructing these models at an atomic scale, the research will provide a new way to predict building damage from various natural disasters.

“When you look at a building, it is actually a series of connections between columns, windows, doors and so on,” said Keremidis. “Our new framework looks at how different building components connect together to form a building like atoms form a molecule—similar forces hold them together, both at the atomic and building scale.”

Developing the Models

To build a model, Keremidis must first put the structure’s elements through discretization, a process of dividing the building’s elements into different points, nodes or “atoms.” Each point is then given a specific property based on its material, which will depend on its weight and if the point is part of a floor, door, window, etc.

Courtesy of MIT

A researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Concrete Sustainability Hub is examining how to predict building damage by modeling structures into groups of atoms.

Once all points have be put through the discretization process, Keremidis then defines the points’ bonds, which he defines as two kinds of bonds—axial and angular.

In an axial bond, elements are deformed under a load in the direction of their span and model how a spring might shrink and expand.

In an angular bond, the elements, like a beam, bend in a lateral direction. Like real buildings, vertical and lateral bending often results in deformation and breaking of various materials.

“Once I have my model and my building, I then run around 10,000 simulations,” explains Keremidis. “I can assign 10,000 different loads to one element or building, or I can also assign that element 10,000 different properties.”

The results will then help predict how buildings will react to various storms and earthquakes.

“When they deform during a simulation, these bonds will try to bring the building back to its original position,” he notes. “But they may also get damaged, too. This is how we model damage—we count how many bonds are destroyed and where.”

What’s Happening Now

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office reports that $28 billion is used as a result of windstorm damage every year. By 2075, the office suspects that number will rise to $38 billion due to coastal development and climate change predictions.

Currently, most U.S. cities still use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s storm model, HAZUS. Although useful—using historical weather data and a dozen standard building models to predict hazards—HAZUS is not ideal, providing more qualitative vs. quantitative results.

The developing MIT model, however, gives stakeholders 50 or 60 building types, and will also be able to measure damage by counting broken bonds, easily quantifying the damage that various weather hazards can have on a community.

Through the molecular dynamics approach, developers and government agencies would even be more equipped to better inform city, state and even federal hazard-mitigation efforts.

The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub’s research is supported by the Portland Cement Association and the Ready Mixed Concrete Research and Education Foundation.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Building design; Building science; Colleges and Universities; concrete; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Protection; Good Technical Practice; Hazards; Health and safety; Latin America; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; North America; Research; Research and development; Safety; Sustainability; Tools & Equipment - Commercial; Z-Continents

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