University professor designs new system against natural disasters

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University professor designs new system against natural disasters

By Tiara Cosby, Staff Writer

Hoping to combat future disasters such as the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan, a University professor has designed a new system against correlated disruptions.

A correlated disruption is when more than one natural disaster occurs simultaneously, linked by mutual outcomes.

Yanfeng Ouyang, professor in Engineering, decided to build a system against correlated disruptions after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011.

“We are trying to represent a certain correlation through mathematical terms and build a model of systems called supporting stations,” Ouyang said.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster disrupted reactors used to help meltdowns after a natural disaster occurs.

There were two natural disasters that disabled the emergency generators: an earthquake followed by a tsunami.

At that time, systems engineers had no idea two natural disasters were capable of happening simultaneously, Ouyang said. The generators were built to prevent one natural disaster but not two.

Ouyang said the generators were designed differently, and the Japanese did not think that this correlation could happen.

“We are now able to design how we would address the risk associated with correlation,” Ouyang said. “Essentially, the whole point is trying to avoid a way for this situation to happen again.”

Denzel McCauley, senior in Engineering, said in an email the faculty and staff in civil and environmental engineering are extremely knowledgeable and driven in their respective field.

“You see the passion in how they teach, and they truly make sure that you are adequately prepared with applying the material to real-life situations,” McCauley said.

Ouyang and fellow CEE researchers decided to design virtual stations that represent the positive and negative correlations of infrastructure in the real world.

Ouyang developed a concept called negative probability, which means the effects of disasters on one component imply a different effect on its competitor. This concept explains how two sources share a “power supply station,” which then creates new independent disruptions that share power supplies.

“Essentially, we can describe this situation by using the example of two people meeting through another person. The two people are considered as the independent disruptions, while the connecting person is the power supply station,” Ouyang said.

Sonia Zala, junior in Engineering, recognizes, like Ouyang, many civil engineers design infrastructures that combat real-life problems.

“The civil engineering program was number one when I applied as a freshman,” Zala said. “There are so many people from CEE that have built major structures throughout the world, and I wanted to be a part of this great program.”

Ultimately, Ouyang said he hopes his design helps other engineers to create new ways to prevent the effects of natural disasters on various system designs.

“Overall the work of a civil engineer allows you to have an impact on an extremely wide, continuous scale through the plethora of projects you’d be handling (and) executing without necessarily having to receive the credit from the community from it,” McCauley said. “It lets you be the silent hand that’s helping everyone out.”

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