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Replaceable Fuses

You know how an electrical fuse blows if it's overloaded? Engineers are trying to incorporate that concept into earthquake-proofing for buildings.

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In the world of electricity, a fuse provides protection by failing if the current in a circuit exceeds a certain level. This breaks the flow of electricity and prevents overheating and fires. After the incident, you simply replace the fuse and restore the system to normal.

Researchers from Stanford University and the University of Illinois have been experimenting with a similar concept in the quest to build an earthquake-resistant building. They call their idea a controlled rocking system because the steel frames that make up the structure are elastic and allowed to rock on top of the foundation. But that by itself wouldn't be an ideal solution.

In addition to the steel frames, the researchers introduced vertical cables that anchor the top of each frame to the foundation and limit the rocking motion. Not only that, the cables have a self-centering ability, which means they can pull the entire structure upright when the shaking stops. The final components are the replaceable steel fuses placed between two frames or at the bases of columns. The metal teeth of the fuses absorb seismic energy as the building rocks. If they "blow" during an earthquake, they can be replaced relatively quickly and cost-effectively to restore the building to its original, ribbon-cutting form.

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