9/11, frame by frame

Computer animation depicts structural damage to buildings

Engineers intent on constructing safer buildings have many reasons to dwell on the details about the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.

To assist them, Purdue computer scientists have created a detailed animation depicting the three-quarters of a second after the first airliner plowed into the north tower at 1 World Trade Center.

Researchers at Purdue created a 'scientific simulation' ' using lines and dots to represent the airplane and the building ' of the impact. This simulation alone took more than 80 hours of high-performance computing to complete.

Based on that simulation, researchers developed and have released an animated video that adds a patina of reality to the dry scientific simulation. Instead of dots and lines, viewers see an actual shape of the aircraft piercing the walls and beams of the tower, as well as jet fuel being expelled into the building's interior.

The animated video was produced by Voicu Popescu, an assistant professor of computer science at Purdue, who created a translator application that takes the data from the scientific simulation and creates a 3-D animation. According to Popescu, the translator is scalable and can be used for other simulations.

"The crashes and computer models you often see on television are not scientifically accurate," according to Popescu. 'This provides an alternative that is useful to the non-expert but is also scientifically accurate, so it provides a more realistic picture of the event."

The animation, with accompanying commentary, shows the damage caused by the Boeing 767 as it was flown into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. and traveled through the building. The simulation shows the effects of the physical impact of the airplane and the jet fuel, but not the effects of the fire that ensued.

The animation is the latest in a series of projects by the Purdue team ' funded in part by the National Science Foundation ' that examine structural damage to buildings caused by airplanes.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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