Installing pipeThe Cornell Large – scale Lifelines Testing Facility, housed at the Harry E. Bovay Jr. Civil Infrastructure Laboratory Complex, focuses on large displacement lifelines research, such as soil-structure interaction for underground gas, petroleum, and water transmission, trunk, and distribution pipelines. The testing facilities have no counterpart elsewhere.

Cornell University, through its School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been performing state-the-art testing and experiments for the oil, gas, electric power, and water supply industries for over 30 years. The Lifelines Group at Cornell specializes in full-scale tests to quantify and understand soil-pipeline interaction.  Members of the group are internationally recognized for their contributions to improved modeling, innovative testing and experimentation, advanced materials and construction procedures, and codes and practices adopted worldwide for pipelines, pipeline facilities, and critical infrastructure networks.

The NEES equipment site at Cornell’s large displacement facility is a unique, world-class resource for research, education, and outreach focused on lifeline response to large ground deformation and the seismic performance of highly ductile above-ground structures using advanced materials and construction.

The NEES facility’s equipment consists of:

  • Reconfigurable reaction wall
  • Large-stroke actuators
  • Soil storage/conveyor system
  • Multi-channel data acquisition system
  • Video capture & streaming system

Additional Cornell Facilities and Resources include the Richard N. White Instructional Facility adjacent to the testing facility hosts a state-of-the art electronic classroom. This classroom serves the dual purposes of providing a teaching facility and linking the NEES telepresence system, including IP video teleconferencing, enabling remote observation and participation in experiments. The entire Harry E. Bovay Jr. Laboratory local area network (LAN) is wired for gigabit Ethernet, with a Gigabit fiber connection to the Cornell backbone. CornellUniversity is directly connected into Internet2. These connections provide for a high-speed path to the NEESgrid network allowing researchers to plan, perform and publish their experimental work. Up to a half terabyte of high speed, fault-tolerant storage is available for secure data storage needs.

Also supporting research projects is a 10 ton overhead crane in the lab’s high bay area, a concrete materials lab and a low bay lab area used for testing many different materials (including concrete, steel and composites) and structural and geotechnical components made from these materials.  The high bay and low bay areas provide space for implementing a wide variety of structural and geotechnical engineering research projects. Recently added to the facilities is a large walk-in environmental room and a concrete curing chamber, both temperature and humidity controlled.


Major Equipment

The nees@cornell soil storage system is capable of holding and handling large quantities of soil for full-scale and near full-scale soil-structure interaction experiments. The three soil bins are located inside the high bay, aiding in moisture control and prevents freezing.  The bins each measure 13 ft wide, 14.5 ft high, and 4 ft in depth with a capacity of 22 yd3.  A moveable, multi-stage conveyer system allows for the rapid movement in and out of the bins aiding placement of soil for large-scale experiments.

A high and low reconfigurable reaction wall is intended for testing of large-scale structural elements. There are three major sections of the wall. Each end has an L-shaped wall. The south end is 20 ft. high and the north end is 8 ft. These sections are intended to serve as a reaction walls for testing above grade structures. The straight low wall center section is 42 ft. long and serves both as a reaction/anchorage location for testing above grade structures and as a reaction base for testing of pipelines. The wall is constructed from modular precast concrete units joined via unbonded post-tensioning, and is reconfigurable.

Four large-stroke actuators are used to provide large displacements under heavy loads. Two actuators (matched) have a maximum load capacity of 100 kip (445 kN) in tension and 146 kip (649 kN) in compression with strokes of +/- 25 inches (0.64m). Single direction displacement is 50 inches (1.28m). The other two actuators (matched) have a maximum load capacity of 66 kip (291 kN) tension and 112 kip (496 kN) in compression with strokes of +/- 36 inches (0.91m). Single direction displacement is 72 inches (1.82m).

 The DAQ System is a high resolution, expandable, configurable, multi-channel measurement system. The system is built around a core of National Instruments’ data acquisition and signal conditioning cards and LabVIEW based software.  Data can be captured, stored locally, displayed and streamed to remote viewers in near real time. Typical sensors used are strain gages, soil pressure sensors, temperature, displacement, force, tactile pressure, etc.



Cornell’s unique facility for inducing large transient and permanent displacements is suitable to studying a wide range of problems directly resulting from ground deformations arising from subsidence, undermining, flooding, landslides and earthquakes. The facility has the capability to evaluate the response of many different types of lifelines (including pipelines, electric conduits, telecommunication cables, straight pipe sections, pipelines with elbows and tees, with specialized joints, coatings, or retrofitting techniques) and different soils and soil conditions (including density, unit weight, moisture content, and depth of burial). Current research efforts focus on:

  •  Critical Lifelines – evaluating ground rupture effects on buried pipeline and conduits.  State-of-the-art modeling and quantification of effects of earthquake-induced ground movement on lifelines to improve the design and construction of lifelines affected by large differential ground deformations.
  • Soil Structure Interface Interaction – studying the complex interaction at the interface through the study of the effects of lateral displacement on structural elements to quantify deformations and interactions leading to design improvements.


Education, Outreach and Training

School age children can learn about different lifelines, earthquakes and the damage the earthquakes do to lifelines through tutorials and programs developed by Cornell and the Sciencenter of Ithaca, NY. Fun activities and class experiments enrich the advanced learner’s experience.  Learners and teachers are invited to visit the Sciencenter, 601 First Street, Ithaca, NY 14850.