The indelible images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 are baked into our minds, but questions remain as to what exactly perpetuated the structural damage that set off the landmark’s subsequent implosion.
A team of researchers and scientists at Purdue University’s Rosen Center For Advanced Computing, a division of the university’s Information Technology department, set out to find the answer. The team spent two and a half years working on a 3D animation and simulation project that would depict, using scientific evidence, exactly what brought the Twin Towers down. The difference between this and other computer simulations is the use of 3D technology and animation, which allows the average lay person, not just an engineer, to visualize for themselves what exactly happened, according to Chris Hoffman, one of the key Purdue faculty members behind the project.
The simulation was conducted to help civil engineers better understand from a scientific perspective what exactly happened to the Towers so they can ultimately prevent failures and design safer buildings. The simulation, which initially took about 80 hours using a high-performance computer containing 16 processors, concluded it was the weight of the 10,000 gallons of jet fuel that ultimately was responsible for most of the damage. The first simulation shows how the plane tore through several stories of the North Tower within a half-second and found that the weight of the fuel acted like a flash flood of flaming liquid, taking out steel structural columns and removing fireproofing materials, which ultimately led to its collapse.
The National Science Foundation helped fund the simulation research. The Purdue team conducted an earlier simulation to examine the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. The team plans to release additional simulations in the upcoming months to depict how the structures were affected by the extreme heat.