July 22, 2011 / 3:23 PM / 8 years ago

"Seismic wallpaper" may help houses through quakes

KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) - Researchers in Germany are working on a material that can keep walls from collapsing during earthquakes — and even detect them before they happen.

The “seismic” wallpaper being developed by scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in western Germany is embedded into a masonry wall imparting “horizontal reinforcement” to the earth’s sharp lateral movements during an earthquake.

“It’s particularly beneficial where there are many stone and brick buildings and a lot of seismic activity,” researcher Moritz Urban told Reuters, adding that the material allows for masonry to break slightly but hold the wall in place.

“Normally (walls) would crumble ... and perhaps the entire house would collapse,” Urban said. “At the least we’re able to keep a wall together — it lets a wall weaken but it still stays intact.”

The “smart” tissue is woven with an optical sensor that can perceive small vibrations which may be able to set off a warning before a major quake.

Urban and his team use the pounding of hydraulic pistons to simulate earthquakes in the lab.

Although the wallpaper has yet to make it onto the market, it is already turning heads in Germany, winning a government and industry sponsored innovation prize this month.

Reporting by Hakan Erdem; Writing by Eric Kelsey in Berlin, editing by Paul Casciato

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