Pablo Vega is a fifth-year graduate student in the Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He studies how older buildings are damaged during earthquakes. Vega works at the Structures Lab, where engineers have intentionally damaged a two-story building frame through forced vibrations using a hydraulic shaker. But Vega’s doing more than just breaking buildings. He’s working with other scientists to develop a bracing retrofit system that helps reduce the risk of earthquake damage in older buildings.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE?
At the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. Actually, I got both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering there.
WHY DID YOU COME TO GEORGIA TECH?
Georgia Tech has a big earthquake research program, so that was the deciding factor. I’m also a city boy, and Georgia Tech being in the middle of a big city played a major role in my decision. Also, I have family members who graduated from Georgia Tech.
WHAT ARE YOUR POST-GRADUATE PLANS?
I’ve been hired by a firm called Arup. They were at the career fair last year. I start working in January in their New York office. Starting out, it’s going to be similar to what I’ve been doing at Georgia Tech: a lot of seismic response studies on new construction as well as on existing buildings.
WHAT ARE SEISMIC RESPONSE STUDIES?
We analyze buildings to find probabilities of failure during an earthquake. We then look at ways of enhancing the building’s structure so we can lower the probabilities of failure.
Traditionally, the structural engineering community has focused on collapse prevention during earthquakes. We want people to survive, which is good if you’re a building occupant. But this focus doesn’t tell us anything about the level of damage the building will sustain. Will the damage be irreparable? If you’re a building owner, will you lose your entire investment? What we’re moving to now is being able to quantify what’s going to happen given the intensity of an earthquake.
HOW DOES YOUR BUILDING BRACE WORK?
With our bracing system, we’ll stiffen up older buildings enough that there should be little to no damage during small-to-me- dium earthquakes. During a larger earthquake, we’re going to allow the building to move more. But the brace has a smart material called shape-memory alloy that’s going to pull the building back into place, so even if there’s damage, it’s going to be repairable damage.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 10 YEARS?
I see myself working in the industry but still connected to the academic world and encouraging engineers to become leaders.