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W&L Senior Mohamad Shawki Amine Assists in Earthquake Research

Washington and Lee University senior Mohamad Shawki Amine was a member of a team from Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering that presented the results of its earthquake research at Posters on the Hill in Washington last month.

Amine’s teammate, Virginia Tech student Elizabeth Godfrey, presented the paper “Site amplification in the Washington area during the 2011 Virginia earthquake,” and was among 60 students invited to present their work to members of Congress and Congressional staffers at the annual event.

The research investigated the 2011 Virginia earthquake whose epicenter was in Reston, Va., 80 miles southwest of Washington. While relatively little damage occurred in Reston, the earthquake severely damaged the inside of the landmark Washington Monument.

“Our research shows that the International Building Code is not safe enough for the Central and Eastern United States (CEUS), an area with low tectonic activity, because it is based on decades of research done solely on the West Coast,” explained Amine, a physics/engineering major from Lebanon. “The East and West Coasts are each unique with different soil profiles and different bedrock, but not much research has been done on the East Coast relating to earthquakes.”

Amine and the team members researched site response and soil amplifications in Washington, Charleston, S.C., and Columbia, S.C. and compared their results to the International Building Code’s amplification factors.

They found that the sharp shear wave velocity contrasts in the District of Columbia resulted in significant amplification of ground motions that were not accounted for in the International Building Code. They also found that Washington is more vulnerable to earthquakes hazards than expected. According to Amine, other research has confirmed the team’s findings.

While other members of the team focused on field research, Amine and Godfrey worked on processing data.

“I loved working on this project so much that sometimes I didn’t even stop for lunch,” said Amine. “It got me interested in civil engineering, so now I will be going to the University of Virginia to study structural engineering. Hopefully, after graduate school I can split my work between the United States and Lebanon and do 80 percent structural engineering and 20 percent natural hazards.”

Amine’s research was funded through a Johnson Opportunity Grant. The grants are part of the Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity and are designed to help students in their chosen fields of study as well as in their future careers.

More than 800 applications were submitted to the 2013 Posters on the Hill, an annual event sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research.

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