World-class facility shakes and rocks to see what stands and what falls

What happened in the Hermes affair? A few days ago, I was at an international conference on the seismic protection of monuments and historical buildings, on Crete. There, an interesting study on supporting Praxiteles’ Hermes was presented, and while I had talked with the competent director of the Culture Ministry, Athina Athanassiadou, about us carrying out tests of the work’s seismic protection, in the end I was informed that these tests will take place in Buffalo! The Americans come here to have their buildings checked, and we will go to Buffalo? We have one of the few facilities in the world; the specific experiment concerns us all; it could take place here and be observed by archaeologists, students, everybody… In addition, the bearings must be tested in conditions that correspond to earthquakes in Greece. At the international meeting on Crete, it was rumored that the supply company had a contract with this particular laboratory, which is why the tests had to be carried out there. And I wondered to myself: Is this a case of inside deals? Two years ago, another state body showed greater sensitivity and assigned us the tests for seismic protection of the Charioteer at Delphi. When we checked the base, which had been constructed by American researchers from a famous American museum, we saw that seismic vibrations, instead of lessening on the surface of the supports, had in fact multiplied… Who comes for checks at your laboratory? Factories, researchers, universities from all over the world, in order to see how some of their ideas for anti-seismic protection of specific constructions stand up to a real earthquake. We have the ability to faithfully reproduce earthquakes. Shocked into action How and when did everything start? This laboratory was set up immediately after the earthquakes that struck Athens in 1981, when Giorgios Rallis was prime minister. I remember calling him at 7.30 in the morning. He picked it up himself and I told him that we had to set up a laboratory like this. I already had a lot of experience, since I had been occupied with the same matters since 1963. He said to me, «very well, here’s an appointment with the Coordination Minister Georgios Souflias.» The meeting took place, Mr Souflias realized the seriousness of and prospects for the proposal and adopted it – that day there were quite a few aftershocks, among them a serious one. I immediately designed the facility with an American firm. State funding covered 20 percent of total expenditure. Afterward, when the government changed, the then-minister of public works, Akis Tsochadzopoulos, espoused the venture, incorporated it into large national facilities and supplied the other 80 percent of funds. The facility was opened in 1986. The success of the laboratory is well known, but I’d like to bring up just one example. In the early 1990s there was a large earthquake in California, which struck electric power stations. The authorities announced a competitive tender, which was won by the Swedish firm ABB. This company assigned to its engineers the task of finding the best laboratory to test and certify machines and installations for the transmission of electric power. They chose us. Since then, engineering specialists, researchers and insurance companies have been coming here and we have been carrying out checks. They are so satisfied with our work that they come back again and again, not only from California, but from other countries that are earthquake-prone (Peru, El Salvador, Chile). They traverse the whole globe to do their experiments here. We should know this and all be a little proud. It has eight hydraulic springs, four vertical ones and four horizontal ones (two for each direction horizontally). It can thus move with six degrees of freedom, that is, up and down, from side to side, backward and forward, and be able to perform three revolutions on its corresponding axes, simulating any earthquake, or any type of seismic wave.