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2015 PEER Internship Program Summer Interns

The Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER) is pleased to offer exciting opportunities for students to explore new directions in earthquake studies and research. This summer eight students participated in the PEER Internship Program. Below, they share some of the highlights and valuable learning opportunities they experienced during their 2015 summer internship.

Gena Belair and Jenna Alexandra Shakiban

Gina Belair and Adeleine Tran

Gina Belair, an undergraduate with a double major in physics and geophysics, is working on a joint project with UC Berkeley and GeoHazards International (GHI). Under the guidance of GHI staff Janise Rodgers and UC Berkeley Professors Nicholas Sitar and Doug Dreger, the study focuses on Aizawl, a city in the northeast Indian state of Mizoram that is highly vulnerable to both earthquakes and landslides. She spent the summer evaluating the vulnerability of the water system in the event of a natural disaster. Her visit to Aizawl was not only an unforgettable opportunity but helped her gain invaluable hands-on field experience. “I was drawn to this internship because it allows me to apply my science-oriented mind to help people. It has given me the opportunity to test out a career that I can see myself pursuing permanently.”

Adeleine Tran is also participating in the 2015 Heising-Simons Natural Disaster Risk Reduction, UC Berkeley GeoHazards International (GHI) Internship, a research project under the guidance of GHI staff Janise Rodgers and UC Berkeley Professors Nicholas Sitar and Doug Dreger. The research project evaluates the water systems in the city of Aizawl, India, to determine their fragility in a seismic event. By understanding the system vulnerabilities, the research team hopes to provide possible recommendations to protect the city’s water sources.

Adeleine has found the most interesting and helpful aspect of the internship is the opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team which includes both U.S. and Indian engineers, scientists, and geologists who have shared their expertise and allowed her to view a problem from different perspectives. Adeleine hopes to pursue an advanced degree in geo-technical engineering with a focus on geo-hazards to improve her understanding and awareness of the risks faced by developing countries  unprepared for seismic events.

image of Jenna Shakiban, Spencer Wright and Kat

Jenna Shakiban, Spencer Wright and Yan (Kat) Lei

Jenna Shakiban is working on the Tall Building Initiative with PEER Researcher Matt Schoettler under the supervision of UC Berkeley Professor Stephen Mahin. Jenna has gained  valuable experience with PACT software (a computer program that estimates cost of repair, number of fatalities, and repair time of a building after earthquake simulations), needed practice writing a literature review, and fresh insight into the world of research from the Pacific Rim Forum and the Tall Building Initiative. She’s extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with PEER this summer.

Spencer Troy Wright is working on a steel brace frame project with Barbara Simpson, a UC Berkeley graduate student, under the supervision of UC Berkeley Professor Steve Mahin. The internship has shown Spencer how building codes have developed over time. In the courses he’s taken so far, the guidelines have always seemed arbitrary, without much explanation of their origins. “This research demonstrates that guidelines
are not set in stone; they are malleable”.  Spencer plans to apply this new insight into future designs to ensure performance above the minimum code requirements.

Yan Lei’s  project is the study of non-structural damage under different earthquake ground motions with PEER-UC lab manager Clement Barthes, and Oakland engineering firm, Estructure Company, under the supervision of UC Berkeley Professor Stephen Mahin.  The project examines the forces exerted on non-structural objects (e.g., refrigerators and book shelves) under varying earthquake magnitudes. Yan and the project team correlate data between the earthquake magnitude and damage to the objects to determine how best to secure non-structural objects to reduce damage and injury in the event of an earthquake.

Yan’s experience at PEER has not only introduced her to PhD students and opened her eyes to the many different disciplines of earthquake engineering, but it has also challenged her understanding of traditional seismic designs, which — she has discovered — focuses primarily on the minimal design requirements for structures while ignoring non-structural components. Yan’s internship experience is inspiring her to pursue a higher degree in seismic design of continued functionality.

Image of Juan Manuel Garcia Bigliani and Eduardo Espitia

Juan Manuel Garcia Bigliani
and Eduardo Espitia

Juan Manuel Garcia Bigliani is a civil engineering student at Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla Colombia, and he is collaborating with Duy Vu To, a PhD student of UC Berkeley Professor Jack Moehle, on the use of high-strength reinforcement in structural concrete beams to study their behavior in a seismic event. Having unique access to research resources, project related information, and laboratory experience has motivated him continue his pursuit  pursue of structural engineering in the future.

Eduardo Espitia, a civil engineering student at Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla Colombia, is working as a research intern for the summer with Duy Vu To, a PhD student under the supervision of UC Berkeley Professor Jack Moehle. The project studies the structural behavior of concrete beams reinforced with high-strength steel bars to define acceptable structural properties for seismic applications. The internship has been extremely enriching both personally and professionally and has motivated Eduardo to pursue a research career: “I believe that academia cannot limit itself to applying the knowledge established so far; instead it must be in constant pursuit of solutions in order to attend to the needs of society’s development and environmental care.” The interaction with graduate students and professors at PEER has enriched Eduardo’s understanding of high level research in engineering, a field that he finds very interesting.


Jianqin Wang

Jianqin Wang, an intern with the NGA subduction project under the supervision of Dr. Tadahiro Kishida and PEER Executive Director Yousef Bozorgnia, is spending her summer processing ground earthquake ground motion data. Although Jianqin came to the project with no previous experience with “R” (a computer language used primarily for statistical computing and analysis to process earthquake signals),  Dr. Kishida soon brought her up to speed by offering short lessons and additional educational resources.  Not only is she learning new skills, the internship has helped raise her awareness about the need to be proficient in programing since data processing is an integral part of earthquake engineering research.

“This internship at PEER has given me an opportunity to get a glimpse into the field of earthquake engineering which is what I hope to do for my graduate studies.”

Find more information about the PEER Internship Program.