Computer animation studies 9-11 damage

With the goal of helping engineers find ways to construct safer buildings, researchers at Purdue University have created a detailed animation of a crucial point in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center: the three-quarters of a second after the first airliner plowed into the North Tower at 1 World Trade Center.

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

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 the shape of the aircraft piercing the structure and jet fuel spewing out 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.

Accurate picture

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

The animation and its accompanying commentary illustrate the damage caused
by the Boeing 767 as it was flown into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.
The simulation shows the effects of the impact of the airplane and the jet fuel, but not the effects of the ensuing fire.

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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