#EngineerGirlShow highlights amazing women in engineering to inspire the next generation. This series was produced by George Retelas with his digital art students at SAE Institute.
Watch an interview with Professor Thalia Anagnos, an earthquake engineer from San Jose State University.
So I'm a professor here at San Jose State. My background is in civil engineering and I'm an earthquake engineer.
Growing up what was your family life like? Kind of, did that affect your choices at all?
We had a big earthquake in Los Angeles which is where I grew up and I was shaken out of my bed and we had school canceled for a couple of days because the school was damaged, and that got me very excited about earthquakes. And so when I went to college I got interested in engineering and then I went to graduate school and I did my PhD in earthquake engineering. So it's something that I've been sort of passionate about since I was about your age.
Was there anyone who inspired you or supported you a lot along the way?
My mechanics professor. He had gone down to Guatemala, there has been an earthquake down there and he had gone down there to look at the damage after the earthquake and it was a horrific earthquake there was so much damage so many people died and he came back and he showed slides to our class of all the collapsed buildings, and he was almost crying and he said “This doesn't have to happen. We can, we can build buildings that don't collapse. We have the technology so that people don't have to die in earthquakes.” Right then and there I said I want to do that because I can help people and make their lives better. So he was a true inspiration for me.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
It was a research project where I was working with a large team of engineers and the goal was to identify older concrete buildings that are, that have a high chance of collapse in a future earthquake. I'm really proud of that because it was a research project but it led to the city of Los Angeles changing their building code, and I just think that's a very exciting contribution.
One of the important things in buildings is that every building behaves differently in an earthquake. Which of these buildings — these each represent, this is a tall building and this is the short building — which of these buildings do you think is going to move more when I shake it? When I shake the ground?
So if I do this [quickly shakes sample “buildings”], notice the tall one isn't moving at all but the short one’s moving a lot. But if I move this very slowly, the tall one moves a lot and the short one doesn't move at all. So one of the things we have to worry about in earthquake engineering is how to design our buildings so that when there's an earthquake they don't move too much. And every earthquake has slightly different characteristics, so some will excite the tall buildings and some will excite the short buildings. So this is one of the demonstrations. And then what we have here is the small shake table, and we allow them to design a tower and then we excite the tower with an earthquake. This isn't actually a very good building. You can see it's moving a lot and it's twisting and everything. I can also change the frequency. I can make it slower. You see how when it’s slow it really rocking? That's called resonance. But we don't really like to see this kind of behavior. It's too... [both laugh].
What advice would you give to young women who are considering entering the world of engineering?
I wanted to do something with my life where I could help people. This was a way that I could use engineering to help people because that's really the goal of earthquake engineering, is to reduce the amount of damage and lost lives in future earthquakes. So it was, you know some people become a doctor to help people? I became an engineer to help people.
Thank you so so much! This has been so great and I'm, it’s a pleasure to meet you.
It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Can I have a hug?