Researcher to explain the science behind "Shake, Rattle and Blow"

AMES, Iowa -- As summer storms begin to blow, Partha Sarkar says engineers can do a lot to protect our homes from windy disasters.

Sarkar, an associate professor who holds Iowa State's T.A. and Grace Miller Wilson Endowed Chair in aerospace engineering, will take his message to Science 101 in Washington, D.C., later this month.

Sarkar's talk is part of a series of luncheon presentations about the science behind science policy. The presentations are sponsored by the Science Coalition, a group lobbying for more federal support of university-based research on behalf of Iowa State University and more than 400 other organizations. The presentations are for congressional members and staffers who want to learn a little basic science about natural disasters, space, computing and other topics.

Sarkar will explain what tornadoes, hurricanes and microbursts from violent thunderstorms do to American homes and buildings. He'll say the storms have different wind speed distributions that produce different loads on houses and buildings. He'll say engineers and atmospheric scientists still have lots of questions to answer about those winds. And he'll say they have a lot to do to reduce damages from those winds.

Sally Schoenvogel, the press assistant for the Science Coalition, said anywhere from 50 to 100 congressional members or staffers attend the presentations. There are typically four presentations every year. They're designed to introduce science facts, explain recent discoveries and answer questions.

The next presentation is "Shake, Rattle and Blow: Weathering Natural Disasters." It will be from noon to 1 p.m. Monday, June 20, in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington. Appearing with Sarkar will be Michel Bruneau who directs an earthquake engineering research center at the University at Buffalo in New York.

Sarkar, who uses a tornado/microburst simulator and wind tunnel tests in his Howe Hall lab to study the effects of strong winds on buildings and bridges, wants Congress to understand that wind disasters don't have to be property disasters.

"Wind is one natural disaster that has the potential to be solved," he said.

But Sarkar said that will take more research, better funding and sustained support from the federal government. Plus it will take the transfer of research findings to building codes and construction practices.