The Center for Geotechnical Modeling (CGM) at UC Davis was proposed in 1980 and approved by the UC Regents in 1983 with Professor Jim Cheney as the founding Director. The CGM was formed to manage the 9-m radius “National Geotechnical Centrifuge,” which was originally developed by a UC Davis team (J. Cheney, K. Arulanandan, J. Henderson, L. Herrmann, K. Romstad, and C. K. Shen) in partnership with NASA Ames and with $2.5M of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The centrifuge was first constructed at a NASA Ames research facility near San Jose and then moved to UC Davis in 1986. NSF support for UC Davis in these stages included awards MPS 7813922 (1979), CMMI 8402926 (1984), CMMI 8607891 (1986), and CMMI 8714727 (1988). The first experiment at UC Davis was executed in the open air on March 23, 1988.
The next decade began with Professor I. M. Idriss as Director (1989-96) and Professor Bruce Kutter continuing as Facility Manager (1982-95). A new enclosure was completed in 1990 and a uniaxial servo-hydraulic shaking table commissioned in 1995. Development of the shaking table was supported by NSF under award CMMI 9106503 (1991), with further advancements supported under award CMMI 9601709 (1996). Professor Kutter became Director in 1996, with Dr. Dan Wilson becoming Facility Manager in 1997. The CGM began openly distributing experimental data for use by other researchers through the Data Report series in 1997.
From 2000-2004, over $5M of major upgrades to the facility were implemented with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). These upgrades included a new centrifuge drivetrain, shaking table upgrades, new model containers, advanced data acquisition systems, high-speed cameras, visualization tools, geophysical tools, and aerodynamic modifications to the enclosure to enable operations up to centrifugal accelerations of 75 g. NSF support was provided through award CMMI 0086566 (2000). UC Davis supported the NEES project by constructing the Geotechnical Modeling Facility building in 2003.
Model complexity and the rate of scientific discovery accelerated under NEES. Tests in the 1990’s were often performed by one or two researchers, involved several tens of sensors, and took two to four weeks to complete. Tests under NEES were often performed by teams of two to ten researchers, involved a couple hundred sensors, and took four to twelve weeks to complete. The increase in model complexity and sensor details are illustrated by these photos from circa 1999 (pre-NEES) and 2005 (post-NEES upgrades).
From 2004-2014, the CGM was home to the NSF-funded NEES@UC Davis experimental site – one of fourteen national shared-use equipment sites operating as part of the NEES network (CMMI 0402490 and 0429459 in 2004, CMMI 0927178 in 2009). Midway through NEES operations, Professor Ross Boulanger became Director (2009) and Dan Wilson became Associate Director (2010). Throughout NEES, the CGM continued to expand its base of external users and international collaborations. For example, seventeen of the twenty four NSF and shared-use projects performed at UC Davis from 2004-2014 were led by Principal Investigators outside of UC Davis. Altogether, research projects in this decade involved more than thirty different faculty members and almost fifty researchers (typically graduate students) from more than twenty different institutions.
From 2016-2025, the CGM will serve as a equipment facility in NSF-funded Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) network, along with several other national shared-used equipment facilities. NSF support for the CGM under the NHERI program is provided under Awards CMMI 1520581 (2016-2020) and CMMI 2037883 (2021-2025). Additional details about NHERI can be found at the DesignSafe-CI website (designsafe-ci.org). The CGM looks forward to continuing to expand its base of external users and supporting a broad range of natural hazards engineering research projects.