Tsunami simulations featured during National Engineers Week


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Next week students from Sweet Home, Ore., to Washington, D.C., not to mention program managers from the National Science Foundation, will all be building small, tsunami-resistance structures – only to knock them over with waves and see which ones survive.

In the process, they will all learn a little about construction, a fair amount about the power of tsunami wave forces, and a better appreciation of the skills of engineering, all as one way to celebrate National Engineers Week.

“These miniature structures and waves we use to simulate a tsunami have turned into very powerful learning tools,” said Alicia Lyman-Holt, education and outreach coordinator for the Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory at Oregon State University. “It’s simple, it’s interesting, it’s educational and it helps people see the problem-solving skills and creativity of engineers.”

For those reasons, Lyman-Holt said, the National Science Foundation asked half a dozen OSU students and staff to travel to Washington, D.C., and set up a portable demonstration of this exercise at the National Building Museum for its annual Discover Engineering Family Day.

For that event, which will be next Saturday, Feb. 21, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., museum visitors and their children will be able to use building blocks to set up little structures in OSU’s portable wave flume, about 15 feet long, to see what would happen if a tsunami wave hits them. OSU undergraduate and graduate students will also make public presentations about tsunami issues.

Earlier in the week, about 100 undergraduate students from OSU and another 25-30 mathematics students from Sweet Home, Ore., will do similar experiments in the Tsunami Wave Basin at OSU, the most sophisticated facility of its type in the world. And to join in that venture, two structures built by program managers of the National Science Foundation will also be tested, while the managers watch.

Anyone can watch the OSU event, which will be broadcast live on the web at wave.oregonstate.edu. Tsunami simulations will be on Tuesday, Feb. 17, at about 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., PST.

“Usually about 20 percent of the structures survive the waves in these tests,” Lyman-Holt said. “It’s always interesting to see which ones do best, and at this point we don’t know whether that will be from a National Science Foundation manager, OSU undergraduates who are part of a hydraulic engineering course, or a student from Sweet Home High School.”

Events such as this are proving to be such a successful learning experience, OSU officials say, that the live/remote tsunami structure activity will also be done this spring with rural Oregon schools and undergraduate students at the University of Hawaii, and with high school groups in Thailand this summer.