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May 2015

Scorpion device takes the sting out of earthquakes

At a glance
The challenge

Old buildings can collapse in earthquakes

The solution

Retrofit buildings with earthquake-proofing devices

The outcome

A pincer-like brace (the "Scorpion") that strengthens buildings during an earthquake

What's next?

The Scorpion is installed in dozens of buildings in Quebec and BC

When most people hear the word “scorpion,” they think of an ugly bug with pincers and a venomous tail. But thanks to Mitacs Accelerate, the word has taken on a completely different meaning for Canada’s construction sector: it now signifies a device that can help save buildings — and the people in them — from earthquakes.

The project started when Michael Gray was researching earthquake-proofing techniques as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Department of Civil Engineering. Michael had developed a prototype connector device with one end that could grip part of a building’s frame between a pair of comb-like pincers, while the other end was welded to a brace.

“During an earthquake, parts of the claw portion of the connector are designed to bend to absorb the force of the shaking, protecting the building,” says Michael. “They act like the crumple zones in the front-end of a car. It’s an easy solution, but no-one else was doing it.”

The Accelerate funding allowed Michael to partner with Cast Connex Corporation to refine the prototype.

We pushed the limits of the connector’s material and structure. In the end, we learned how to make a better connector — one that’s modular, with known, identical properties that can be used in any part of any building. Our connector can be used on new buildings, as well as in retrofitting projects to bring old structures up to code. It offers the best balance of performance with affordability,“ says Michael.

Cast Connex President and CEO Carlos de Oliviera says there are other important benefits to the design. “After an earthquake, you can easily remove these connectors and replace them with new ones — just like changing old fuses. That ability could mean the difference between saving an old building or having to demolish it. This technology really is the future in retrofitting buildings.”

Within months, the new connector — dubbed the “Scorpion” — was being used in seismic upgrading projects on buildings in Quebec and BC.

“This is a very quick adoption of a new building technology in Canada,” says Michael, who’s now working with Cast Connex. “It provides another tool to solve design challenges, with the end result being better, safer buildings.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia,  the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the  Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: