College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

New Zealand Fulbright grantee chooses Iowa State earthquake engineering

Jonathan Watkins, recipient of Fulbright New Zealand Graduate Award in Natural Disaster Research, chooses Iowa State to research earthquake engineering.

Jonathan Watkins moved 8,000 miles from the epicenter of earthquake-prone New Zealand to research earthquake engineering at Iowa State. Dr. Sri Sritharan, Wilson Engineering Professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, led Watkins to Ames for a year-long research experience under the worldly renowned Fulbright Program.

Watkins, a PhD candidate in civil engineering at The University of Auckland (New Zealand), received the 2012 New Zealand Fulbright-EQC Graduate Award in Natural Disaster Research. The international Fulbright Program honors scholars of education, culture and science who exchange study experiences throughout the world. With the New Zealand award he chose to research under Sritharan on the use of self-centering precast concrete walls for the construction of earthquake-resilient buildings. Watkins is Sritharan’s third Fulbright student from New Zealand. The first two now serve as faculty in New Zealand after completing their doctoral degrees.

“Even though earthquakes don’t typically happen in Iowa, this is the right place to study them. He is one of the best,” Watkins says of Sritharan, an international expert in seismic engineering.

At Iowa State, Sritharan led the development of an innovative precast concrete wall system that can withstand large earthquake motions with little or no damage. Approximately for the same cost, conventional walls are designed to minimize collapse under earthquake loads, but they suffer significant damage; thus needing repair or replacement.

Watkins will analyze numerical models of buildings design with self-centering precast wall systems. Wilson Engineering Professor Sri Sritharan, who helped developed this earthquake engineering system, hosts Watkins.

Watkins will engage in Sritharan’s $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant project on this subject, which includes collaboration with researchers at The University of Auckland and Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center in Japan.

Watkins will focus his effort on numerical modeling of buildings designed with self-centering precast wall systems. He aims to apply the new technology to a variety of buildings in his home country, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2011. “This research could lead to communities and infrastructure becoming more resilient to natural disasters, especially earthquakes that frequently happen in New Zealand,” he says.

Watkins will conduct research at Iowa State from now through August 2013.