Newest student team stands strong in San Diego

Team members with Miramontes Tower, from left to right: Carmen Sing, Jill Pederson, Ayden Martin, Luke Imrich, Trevor Calton, Amy Scott and Holly Tucker.

Though their end-of-year celebration had to be held online, there was no mistaking the passion of students who represented UVic at a recent competition focused on seismic building design.

UVic Seismic – established just six months ago – travelled to San Diego in early March to face off against 45 other undergraduate teams from around the world. The student competition is hosted annually by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) and involves constructing model timber structures designed to withstand vigorous shaking that simulates a major earthquake.

“It was such a great real-world application – it was a lot of fun and a really steep learning curve for all of us,” said Trevor Calton, a fourth-year student who was in charge of the team’s materials. “It was definitely an honour to be a part of it.”

The team of seven Civil Engineering students returned from California shortly before COVID-19 travel restrictions were introduced, likely making them the only UVic Engineering club able to participate in an international competition this year.

The team’s building, called Miramontes Tower, successfully withstood the simulated ground motions of an earthquake to cheers from onlookers and the strains of “You Shook Me All Night Long.” UVic placed 19 among 46 competitors, a remarkable showing for such a new team.

“It’s pretty amazing to look back and see where we started and how our team has developed over the course of six months,” said team captain Amy Scott.

The race to build Miramontes

UVic Seismic members, most who had been away on co-op during the fall term, had to collaborate remotely at first, with fourth-year student Holly Tucker taking the role of design lead. The team came up with a 19-storey structure with an L-shaped base, inspired by the neo-futurist Vancouver House, located near the Granville Street Bridge, which gradually transitions into a rectangle as it ascends.

“It was pretty rushed when we started in January, we were running as fast as we could to get caught up with other teams that had started in December or earlier,” said Scott. The team’s fourth-year students – Scott, Calton, Tucker, geotechnical lead Carmen Sing and construction lead Luke Imrich – were thrilled when they got permission to use the work as their capstone project.

“So instead of having two massive projects on the go, the five of us graduating this year could put all our effort into this one,” said Scott. “It was definitely a big motivator that pushed us to excel.”

In January, students returned from their co-ops and building began, with the core team of seven and about 10 other interested students hand cutting 1,200 pieces for each of two identical structures – one that would be used for testing at UVic and another that would be shipped to the competition. Made entirely of balsa wood and glue, the team used custom 3D-printed jigs to keep the 19 stacked floors consistent. Later, a “shake table” located in one of the engineering labs was used to test the structure’s strength.

How the new club got its start

The idea for the UVic club was floated in August 2019 by two members of the Civil Engineering Department: Assistant Professor Lina Zhou and Adjunct Professor Andrew Pape-Salmon, who is also the Executive Director of the BC Government’s Building and Safety Standards Branch. The two held a meeting for interested students and, in the end, seven from the department formed the core team.

“Why is having an EERI student chapter at UVic so important? Well, we are in one of the top seismic zones in Canada here in southwestern BC, particularly on Vancouver Island,” Pape-Salmon told students at the online gathering. “More importantly, building codes are changing significantly every five years as the seismology, data and modelling get better.

“So, you are our future leaders for building design,” he said, adding that the team’s showing was “an immense success.”

The new club worked hard to attract 11 sponsor organizations that provided in-kind resources, such as space and expertise, and funding that enabled students to build the two structures and travel to San Diego. The lead sponsor was the Wizinsky Foundation, started in 2011 by UVic alumni Dave Wizinsky and Marie (Beltgens) Wizinsky.

“Marie and I are both grateful for our experience and education while attending UVic and seek out opportunities to help prepare our future leaders,” said Dave Wizinsky. “We love to get involved with student experiences that are outside of regular university lectures. In this case, we saw a tremendous opportunity for members of UVic Seismic to gain insights into leadership, teamwork, strategy and overcoming challenges.”

The Wizinsky couple, who first heard about UVic Seismic from Scott and Tucker, were impressed by the enormous effort they saw the two young women put into working with faculty to create the new team, applying to become an EERI student chapter, submitting a competition proposal and then competing internationally.

“The team members did all of the modelling, design and construction and participated in the event in March while going to school full-time or working in co-ops – many of them in their final year of engineering,” Wizinsky said. “We found all of this quite incredible and wanted to support these young leaders in such an ambitious undertaking.”

The team says it also benefitted enormously from being able to consult with three top BC engineering companies, RJC Engineers, Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers and Herold Engineering.

Three third-year students – including Jill Pederson and Ayden Martin, two who travelled to San Diego, and Brennan Fetterly – plan to keep UVic Seismic going. The three hope to attract students from Civil Engineering and other departments, and to attend the EERI competition in Seattle next spring.

“I think all of us have just positive things to say about this experience, which is pretty awesome,” said Scott. “And I know for the five of us graduating, it was truly a fantastic way to finish off our degree.”