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Brigham Young University civil engineering professor Kyle Rollins is testing the seismic resistance of foundations used in freeway construction with the Statnamic, a 39-ton weight the size of a sport utility vehicle that simulates the immense and sudden force of an earthquake.

The Statnamic uses gas jets to shoot upward in a motion that delivers 800,000 pounds of downward force against a steel pile foundation, the kind used to support bridges and tall buildings. Sensors along the steel pile record its reaction to the Stanamic's force.

"Most Utah construction is done on clay soils, and there is little data on how earthquakes affect it," said Rollins, whose tests near the intersection of Redwood Road and SR-201 are funded by the Utah Department of Transportation. "The research has important implications for future construction projects, including the proposed Legacy Highway."

Rollins is an expert in earthquake simulation and liquefaction, a condition that occurs when an earthquake causes an increase in water pressure, turning once-stable soil into a vat of mud with a fraction of its former strength. He has conducted other earthquake simulations on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay and in Charleston, South Carolina.