October Spotlight for Meet the PEER Students | Presented by the PEER Student Committee

October 7, 2021

The PEER Student Committee is pleased to present our next spotlighted researcher in the "Meet the PEER Students'' Series. The series features students and postdoctoral researchers who conduct exciting research projects, engage in leadership activities, and perform exceptional work. This month, we met Dr. Jin Zhou, a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Davis.

Dr. Jin ZhouDr. Jin Zhou recently received her Ph.D. degree in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on the seismic collapse fragility of buildings and bridges with a particular focus on establishing component capacity limit states for post-earthquake assessment.

She received her BS and MS degrees in Civil Engineering from Hunan University, China, and UC Davis, respectively. She served as co-president of the EERI student chapter at UC Davis. Outside of work, Jin enjoys snowboarding, vlogging, and video editing.

What made you interested in earthquake engineering?

I am originally from China which has some very earthquake-active regions. China has had two major earthquakes in recent history – the Tangshan earthquake and the Wenchuan earthquake which resulted in significant devastation, injuries, and loss of lives. When the Wenchuan earthquake occurred in 2008, I was fourteen years old, in high school. I know of many people who lost their parents, friends, and family members. Moreover, it was extremely sad to hear that among the casualties were children and teenagers. What concerned me the most was that the collapse of many buildings was the result of poor design and construction. That is when I decided to become a civil engineer and learn about earthquake engineering. At that age, it was just a seed in my heart; I didn’t know when it would become a big tree. But I knew that I would make it someday.

What are your research objectives?

My current research objective is to enhance the capability of Caltrans to rapidly estimate the damage to their bridge inventory following an earthquake to facilitate the planning, management, and mobilization of emergency response. Shakecast, used by Caltrans since 2008, uses near real-time ground shaking maps generated by USGS with predictive seismic demand models and component-system capacity models to evaluate the likely damage to all bridges in the event. While the development of demand models has seen considerable progress, there is a significant gap in the ability of the Shakecast platform to correlate demands with capacity limit states, particularly for older California bridges. It is the goal of my research to address this gap by developing a range of capacity limit states (from minor damage up to collapse) for pre-1990 Caltrans bridge columns through modeling and comprehensive simulations.

What are your career goals?

I just graduated and I am seeking job opportunities, whether in industry or academia. As a graduate student, I wondered how to translate my research into practice and how our research can benefit the real world. From this perspective, I want to gain some experience in the industry, but I’d also like to continue with research and find an intermediate interface between those.

What are some important considerations to be aware of when performing fragility analysis?

A number of factors ranging from ground motion (GM) selection to modeling decisions can influence the quantification of collapse probability. Based on the findings of my research, GM selection plays a more significant role than modeling considerations on the predicted collapse probabilities and collapse risk. The use of the CSS (Conditional Scenario Spectrum) approach, a hazard-consistent method, resulted in lower collapse probabilities than traditional incremental dynamic analysis (IDA), where the selected GMs were based on site characteristics (soil type and fault distance) and an additional criterion for the composition of pulse-like motions in the GM set. The CSS method is an enhancement of the Conditional Spectra (CS) method, incorporating spectra with assigned rates of occurrence that reproduce the hazard at the site over a period range.

What activities in your research have been the most challenging?

I would say technical writing. Since English is not my mother tongue, it is sometimes just hard for me to express my thoughts on my research findings in an expressive and objective manner. So I am still learning how to effectively express technical thoughts in English. I agree with what I heard in previous Meet the PEER Students spotlights: writing might feel less exciting than coding and data processing. So, I can be completely focused and engaged in coding and simulation but the process of writing is more tedious and difficult to involve my total attention.

Can you tell us about any achievements or projects which you are especially proud of?

The first major achievement that I will always remember is passing my qualifying exam. It is a major hurdle but I passed it on my first attempt. Finishing my Ph.D. degree is the other milestone. I never imagined I could get a Ph.D. degree when I was young. Although it’s tough, for me, the whole Ph.D. process is like the concept of delayed gratification.

Watch the previous Meet the PEER Student spotlights on the PEER Student Committee website. Do you know someone in the PEER institutions who is doing a great job? Nominate them here to be part of this series.