When a 7.1 magnitude earthquake jolted San Francisco in October 1989, engineer Ray Clough knew many of the city’s tallest buildings would withstand such a strong quake. He was confident because he had a hand in designing them.
Clough developed a mathematical procedure known as finite element analysis, used to analyze the stresses on buildings and other structures such as dams and skyscrapers. In Clough’s procedure, a physical structure is broken down into substructures known as finite elements. The elements are then converted to equations and solved mathematically. Once earthquake stresses on a structure’s design have been identified, architects and engineers can modify the design to withstand earthquakes.
Clough’s technique has become a key analytical tool in earthquake engineering. He later extended the method to enable dynamic analysis of complex structures and co-authored the definitive text on structural dynamics. He transformed the field of structural dynamics through the development of fundamental theories, computational techniques and experimental methods. Decades later, his text is still widely used.
By Jen Santisi