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Safeguards from tremors

education Updated: May 22, 2013 10:42 IST
Proyashi Barua
Proyashi Barua
Hindustan Times
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The Indian subcontinent has had a history of devastating earthquakes. In fact, in the last two decades alone close to 40,000 deaths have occurred due to earthquakes. Building collapse has essentially been one of the major reasons for casualities. Rapidly increasing construction activity in urban and rural areas alongside already existing vulnerable buildings is compounding this risk.

The Earthquake Engineering Research Centre (EERC) at Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Hyderabad was established to study earthquake vulnerability and undertake risk assessment. Founded and headed by Ramancharla Pradeep Kumar, professor of civil engineering this centre has been focusing on numerical modeling of faults and tectonic plates, collapse analysis of buildings due to dynamic loads, seismic evaluation of buildings and critical structures, Indian Standard Codes on building construction and capacity building and earthquake safety awareness.

Talking about one focus area Ramancharla says, “Since deaths during earthquakes are mostly caused by building collapses there is an urgent need to understand the ‘collapse behaviour’ of buildings due to earthquake and other severe dynamic loads like wind and blast loads. In other words, there is a need to ascertain what exactly causes buildings to collapse during earthquakes.”

Harinadha Babu, a research scholar working on this project says, “Existing methods are inadequate to study such behaviour as usually in these methods loads are approximated to equivalent static loads. Hence the reasons for complete collapse is not always clear. We at EERC are addressing this challenge through an innovative approach. We have proposed a method to calculate air/surface blast load on a building and used the same to understand the collapse process of building. Results of the study have been sent to high impact factor journals.”

EERC has taken up the task of evaluating around 20,000 buildings in the Gandhidham area of Gujarat. This study has been the first-of-its-kind in India and has received a wide recognition among the research community. After publication of the results, the centre received requests from other earthquake prone cities in India to conduct similar studies. “Presently we have taken up vulnerability assessment studies of Nanded City in Maharastra and UT of Chandigarh. Also, Institute of Seismological Research (ISR Gujarat) requested us to participate in the study of vulnerability assessment of six major ports in Gujarat,” informs Babu.

The research undertaken by this centre is different from the research (in the domain of earthquakes) undertaken by non engineering institutes and geologists.

Explaining differences Babu says, “Our research is basically on numerical modeling. We draw inputs from the published works of scientists (geologists/seismologists/geo-physicists etc). Generally their research is on finding scientific facts, where as we extend the same to engineering applications which are useful for designing of safe buildings.”

All research projects undertaken by engineering institutes should have a broad mandate - improvement in the quality of human life. So is this really happening with respect to engineering institutes in India? “Today’s technical education, in its widely prevalent form, is not able to adequately empower students to think independently. Being driven by peer pressure, it is leading to a blind race for jobs that are intellectually and mentally unfulfilling, and wealth that breeds chaos in family and in society. However, education is not just about learning skills (how to) but also about developing the ability to decide on what (what to do?) and why (why to do?). It should lead to the development of critical ability in students towards distinguishing between essence and form, or between what is of value and what is superficial, in life. It should develop their understanding which is a prerequisite for a movement from rule based society to a relationship based society,” says Ramancharla.

Talking about innovation in engineering institutes Ramancharla says, “Other than IITs and NITs state-level engineering colleges have a very huge teaching load. This is a serious hindrance to research.”

Team: 14 members

Background: PhD, MTech and MS by research students

Focus Area: Collapse analysis and seismic evaluation of buildings

Outcome/impact: Developed an experimental lab facility for seismic evaluation

What next: To provide sustainable solutions for the construction of safe buildings

New course on building science and engineering

A new dual degree course in building science and engineering (BSE) is on offer at IIIT from the next academic year. It is a specialised course on sustainable building technology which derives its principles from civil engineering. The course is aimed at producing engineers specialised in building science. “These enginners will be adept in two broad areas - making cities sustainable through improvements in energy efficient buildings and understanding the processes through which buildings affect occupants. They will also be conversant about the green footprint of a building.” Students of the course would be taught to build environmentally sustainable habitats by integrating environment, materials, services, science and engineering apart from helping them take up research.

“Since construction activity and buildings are contributing 13% to global warming there is every need to develop other sustainable building technologies and the new course is an initiative in that direction,” says Ramancharla.

Five facts at your fingertips

1. Location: The institute is located in the city of the Charminar, Hyderabad. More specifically it is located in Gachibowli, which is about 10 km from the old city and the central railway station. The institute is close to HITEC City which is a centre housing the software development centres of companies like Microsoft, Oracle Corporation, Motorola, Infosys and GE

2. History: IIIT Hyderabad was set up in 1998 as a not-for-profit public private partnership institute. Incidentally it is the first IIIT to be set up (under this model) in India. It was envisioned by Chandrababu Naidu, the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. The institute is governed by a council that has representation from the academicia, industry and government

3. Placements: Students have secured placement offers from leading Indian and multinational firms. In the last placement season a BTech graduate from this institute bagged a job offer with an anual package of Rs. 70 lakh from a US technology firm. On an average BTech students secured packages in the range of Rs. 35 to Rs. 45 lakh (annual CTC)

4. Flagship programmes: BTech, MTech and the postgraduate research programmes are some of the flagship programmes on offer. PhD programme, Master’s by Research Programme (Ms by Research) and Post BSc programme in computational natural sciences are within the bouquet of post graduate research programmes

5. Admissions: Until the year 2009, admissions were taken through AIEEE ie. CCB (Central Counselling Board). From the year 2010, admissions for postgraduate studies are on the basis of the postgraduate entrance exam (PGEE) while admissions to the MSIT programme are on the basis of a test conducted every year between April and May Website: