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IDEERS 2023 – International Teams Compete in Earthquake Engineering

Due to the fact that Taiwan's main island was formed by the compression of tectonic plates, earthquakes in Taiwan are unavoidable. To protect the lives and property of the people of Taiwan, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) is committed to promoting research and education on disaster prevention. Besides assisting with research and development of earthquake prevention and mitigation technology, the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering (NCREE) of NARLabs also works to carry out NSTC policy through organizing the Introducing and Demonstrating Earthquake Engineering Research in Schools (IDEERS) competition. IDEERS aims to attract young scholars to engage in research on earthquake prevention and mitigation and help create earthquake-resistant homelands together.

This year's IDEERS competition was held from Sept. 21 to 23 at NCREE's Taipei branch, providing an opportunity for students from Taiwan and overseas to compete on the same stage and enhancing local students' international perspective and professional competence. IDEERS culminates with a final competition, where models designed by the participating teams are tested and ranked for their earthquake resistance and efficiency. This year, first place in the High School and Undergraduate divisions were awarded to Bukit Merah Secondary School (Singapore) and Duy Tan University (Vietnam), respectively, while first place in the Postgraduate division was won by the National Cheng Kung University Department of Civil Engineering.

Coexist with Earthquakes: IDEERS Promotes Disaster Prevention Education

It has now been 24 years since the Jiji earthquake, and Taiwan has since experienced the 2016 southern Taiwan earthquake, the 2018 Hualien earthquake, and the 2022 Taitung earthquakes, among others. Although earthquake engineering technology is constantly innovated and early warning systems can send information about detected earthquakes almost immediately, it is still not possible to predict earthquakes before they occur. Therefore, preparing for earthquakes and providing solid education on earthquake engineering and disaster prevention is immensely important.

IDEERS has been held annually since 2001 (with the exception of 2020 and 2021), with a cumulative total of over 8,200 student participants from Taiwan and abroad. Countries and regions that have participated include the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, Belize, the Philippines, and Guatemala. While the COVID-19 pandemic caused the suspension of the competition in 2020 and 2021, IDEERS was able to be held in 2022 for local students, who built their models remotely and brought them to NCREE for the final judging. This year, COVID restrictions were lifted, so an international competition was organized once again, with nearly 500 students making up a total of 101 teams from high school, college, and graduate school participating.

International Teams Return to the Stage

IDEERS 2023 kicked off with a conference for postgraduate teams on Sept. 21. For the competition, these teams were tasked with constructing an earthquake-resistant building model by applying advanced structural techniques from energy dissipation and damping to seismic isolation. Each team must also give a 15-minute presentation in English to explain the design concept of their model and how it works in terms of energy dissipation or seismic isolation, all while taking into account the practicality of architectural planning. The postgraduate seminar, therefore, is designed to enhance students' presentation skills and promote academic exchange among students from Taiwan and overseas.

Day two of IDEERS is the model building day. All participating teams must complete their models within 5.5 hours, building them according to a chosen theme with the materials provided. The models are then examined by judges to determine their loading capacity before they enter the final day's competition.

On the final day, the high school and undergraduate divisions load their models with at least 7.5 kg of block weights, while postgraduate teams add 10 kg to each story for a total of 40 kg. An earthquake is then simulated by means of a shake table in order to test whether the designs are sufficiently earthquake resistant.

Capability-Price Ratio Determines the Victor

This year, the high school and undergraduate teams were challenged to construct a single concentrated-load tower structure from everyday life such as a bridge pier, water tower, observation deck tower, etc. Evaluation is based on the model's capability-price (CP) ratio, which is the ratio of the model's performance (the maximum seismicity it can withstand) to the price (the weight of the model's materials). The larger the seismicity it can withstand and the lighter the materials it uses, the larger the CP ratio will be, and the better the competition result will be as well. The models are tested under increasing magnitudes of earthquakes until the maximum earthquake strength specified by IDEERS is reached or until all models have collapsed. The results are then used to calculate the CP ratio of each model.

The postgraduate teams, on the other hand, can design their isolation and damping devices freely. During testing, if any part of the model collapses or displacement of the seismic isolation system exceeds the permissible range, the structure is judged to be damaged. To achieve the highest score, the model must meet the 1000-gal seismic target, that is, the model should not break until a seismic force of 1050 gal, which means that no material is wasted and the design objective is met.
After the shake test, the three models with the highest CP ratios are determined from each division, and their teams are awarded prize money and trophies. In addition, the judging panel selects separate awards for "Most Creative Structural (Engineering) Design," "Most Architectural (Art) Design," and "Best Design Concept Exhibition," conferring prizes and certificates to the winners.

First to third places in the High School division were awarded to Bukit Merah Secondary School (Singapore), Yang-Tze High School Team 1 (Taiwan) and Yang-Tze High School Team 2, respectively. First to third places in the Undergraduate division were won by Duy Tan University Team 1 (Vietnam), Keimyung University (Vietnam), and Duy Tan University Team 2. First to third places in the Postgraduate division were awarded to the National Cheng Kung University Department of Engineering (Taiwan), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, and the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University Department of Civil Engineering (Taiwan).

The high school winning team from Bukit Merah Secondary School adopted a simple and lightweight design for their model, using wood strips to reinforce the bases of pillars and resist base shear due to seismic force. They also added a frame to the platform on top of their model to increase its load-bearing capacity and support the weight applied during the competition. Coupled with quality construction, the team's model ultimately passed a shake table test at 800 gal and achieved the highest CP ratio.

The winners of the Undergraduate division from Duy Tan University did not use excessive wood strips, so the weight of their model was not too heavy, allowing all structural members to be adequately utilized. Important points on the structure were also strengthened; for example, beams and pillars were not only adhered with hot glue, but also tied together with cotton rope. Meanwhile, additional short wood strips were used to enlarge the cross-sectional area of the first-floor pillars, and wood strips were also used for diagonal bracing to strengthen support at the overhangs of the load-bearing platforms, while rubber bands were used for large external diagonal bracing, earning the model the highest CP ratio.

The National Cheng Kung University Department of Civil Engineering, winners of the Postgraduate division, had an overall design that was meticulously crafted and checked all boxes. The bottom of their model featured a seismic isolation device combining springs and ball bearings, which helped in elongating the seismic isolation effect of the structural period during testing and provided the seismic isolation system with the ability to resist toppling. For the upper section, the team followed traditional planar symmetry and facade design, which reduced structural torsion due to seismic activity. The integration of each of these design features won the team the top prize.