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Joel Conte - UC San Diego. La Jolla, CA, US

Joel Conte Joel Conte

Professor, Structural Engineering | UC San Diego


Joel Conte specializes in the design of safer and more economic structures, especially regarding earthquakes.






World's largest outdoor shake table receives $16.3M from NSF for upgrades Earthquake Shake Tests at UC San Diego Toward 20-story Earthquake-safe Buildings Made from Wood



Conte is the principal investigator for UC San Diego's NSF-funded shake table, the largest outdoor shake table in the world.

He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute. He is also a member of the Chi Epson civil engineering honor society.

Conte's work focuses methodologies for probabilistic performance assessment of civil structures. He develops complex computer models that combine data from experimental testing in the laboratory and field data from real structures.

His research leads to the design of safer and more economic structures, especially regarding earthquake hazards. He is also developing methods based on sensor arrays and system identification techniques to detect and identify sudden hidden damage or progressive deterioration in civil infrastructure systems.

Areas of Expertise (7)

Computer Modeling and Simulation

Earthquake Engineering

Structural Analysis



Risk Analysis

Civil Engineering

Accomplishments (2)

James H. Robbins Excellence-in-Teaching Award, Pacific District, Chi-Epsilon


Member, Chi Epsilon Civil Engineering Honor Society


Education (3)

University of California, Berkeley: Ph.D. 1990

University of California, Berkeley: M.S. 1986

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland: Diploma of Civil Engineering 1985

Affiliations (3)

  • PI on key NSF grants supporting earthquake shake table at UC San Diego
  • Member, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
  • Member, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute

Media Appearances (4)

Earthquake simulator at UC San Diego to get major upgrades



The "shake table" at UC San Diego will soon be able to move just like a real earthquake, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation. Researchers at UC San Diego received $16.3 million for upgrades to the machine. "This would become one of the very best centers for earthquake engineering worldwide," says Professor Joel Conte, who teaches in the school's Department of Structural Engineering...

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World's largest outdoor shake table receives $16.3 million from NSF for upgrades



"We will be able to reproduce earthquake motions with the most accuracy of any shake table in the world," said Professor Joel Conte, in the Department of structural engineering at UC San Diego, and principal investigator for the NSF upgrade grant...

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UC San Diego's huge earthquake simulator getting upgrade to better simulate deadly temblors

Los Angeles Times  print


UC San Diego’s earthquake simulator at Scripps Ranch will soon give engineers a better sense of the fury released when quakes erupt in places around the globe from the San Fernando Valley to the mountains of Afghanistan. The National Science Foundation recently gave the university $16.3 million to upgrade the so-called shake table so it can more accurately simulate quakes, officials said. “We will be able to reproduce earthquake motions with the most accuracy of any shake table in the world,” said Joel Conte, the UC San Diego structural engineer who is overseeing the project.

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Doomsday Machines

Science Magazine  print


For the past year, Tara Hutchinson has been trying to figure out what will happen to a tall building made from thin steel beams when “the big one” hits. To do that, she has erected a six-story tower that rises like a lime-green finger from atop a shrub-covered hill on the outskirts of San Diego, California. Hundreds of strain gauges and accelerometers fill the building, so sensitive they can detect wind gusts pressing against the walls. Now, Hutchinson just needs an earthquake. In most of the world, this would be a problem. Even here, where a major fault runs right through downtown, the last quake of any note struck 6 years ago and was centered in nearby Mexico. But Hutchinson, a structural engineering professor at the University of California (UC), San Diego, doesn't need plate tectonics to cooperate. This summer she has an appointment at one of the world's biggest earthquake machines. This device—a sort of bull ride for buildings—is one in a network built around the United States over the past 15 years to advance natural disaster science with more realistic and sophisticated tests. Costing more than $280 million, the National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative has enabled scientists to better imitate some of the most powerful and destructive forces on Earth, including earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides. “The real world, you cannot count on it,” Conte says. “You cannot say, ‘Oh, I'm going to sit and wait for the next earthquake in front of this big building, and I'm going to invest a lot in sensors.’ You may have to wait 30, 40, 50 years. So you produce an earthquake.”

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Research Focus (1)

Principal Investigator UC San Diego NHERI shake table

Joe Conte is the principal investigator on UC San Diego's NSF funded outdoor shake table, the largest outdoor shake table in the world.

Research Grants (1)

World's largest outdoor shake table receives $16.3M from NSF for upgrades

US National Science Foundation (NSF) $16.3M


The world’s largest outdoor earthquake simulator, operated by structural engineers at the University of California San Diego, has received a $16.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to upgrade the facility to expand its testing capabilities.

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Articles (5)

Bayesian optimal estimation for output‐only nonlinear system and damage identification of civil structures

Structural Control and Health Monitoring

Hamed Ebrahimian, Rodrigo Astroza, Joel P Conte, Costas Papadimitriou

2018 This paper presents a new framework for output‐only nonlinear system and damage identification of civil structures. This framework is based on nonlinear finite element (FE) model updating in the time‐domain, using only the sparsely measured structural response to unmeasured or partially measured earthquake excitation...

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Bayesian nonlinear structural FE model and seismic input identification for damage assessment of civil structures

Mechanical Systems and Signal Processing

Rodrigo Astroza, Hamed Ebrahimian, Yong Li, Joel P Conte

2017 A methodology is proposed to update mechanics-based nonlinear finite element (FE) models of civil structures subjected to unknown input excitation. The approach allows to jointly estimate unknown time-invariant model parameters of a nonlinear FE model of the structure and the unknown time histories of input excitations using spatially-sparse output response measurements recorded during an earthquake event. The unscented Kalman filter, which circumvents the computation of FE response sensitivities with respect to the unknown model parameters and unknown input excitations by using a deterministic sampling approach, is employed as the estimation tool. The use of measurement data obtained from arrays of heterogeneous sensors, including accelerometers, displacement sensors, and strain gauges is investigated. Based on the estimated FE model parameters and input excitations, the updated nonlinear FE model can be interrogated to detect, localize, classify, and assess damage in the structure. Numerically simulated response data of a three-dimensional 4-story 2-by-1 bay steel frame structure with six unknown model parameters subjected to unknown bi-directional horizontal seismic excitation, and a three-dimensional 5-story 2-by-1 bay reinforced concrete frame structure with nine unknown model parameters subjected to unknown bi-directional horizontal seismic excitation are used to illustrate and validate the proposed methodology. The results of the validation studies show the excellent performance and robustness of the proposed algorithm to jointly estimate unknown FE model parameters and unknown input excitations.

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Finite-element model updating for assessment of progressive damage in a 3-story infilled RC frame

Journal of Structural Engineering

Babak Moaveni, Andreas Stavridis, Geert Lombaert, Joel P. Conte, P. Benson Shing

2013 This paper presents a study on the identification of progressive damage, using an equivalent linear finite-element model updating strategy, in a masonry infilled RC frame that was tested on a shake table. A two-thirds-scale, 3-story, 2-bay, infilled RC frame was tested on the UCSD–NEES shake table to investigate the seismic performance of this type of construction. The shake table tests induced damage in the structure progressively through scaled historical earthquake records of increasing intensity...

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Shake-Table Test of a Full-Scale 7-Story Building Slice. Phase I: Rectangular Wall

Journal of Structural Engineering

Marios Panagiotou, José I. Restrepo, Joel P. Conte

2011 This paper is a companion to “Displacement-Based Method of Analysis for Regular Reinforced-Concrete Wall Buildings: Application to a Full-Scale 7-Story Building Slice Tested at UC–San Diego” and presents key results obtained from a full-scale 7-story reinforced concrete building slice built and tested on the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation Large Outdoor High-Performance Shake Table at the University of California, San Diego. The building was tested in two phases. This paper discusses the main test results obtained during Phase I of the experimental program...

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Damage identification study of a seven-story full-scale building slice tested on the UCSD-NEES shake table

Structural Safety

Babak Moaveni, Xianfei He, Joel P. Conte, Jose I. Restrepo

2010 A full-scale seven-story reinforced concrete building section was tested on the UCSD-NEES shake table during the period October 2005–January 2006. The shake table tests were designed to damage the building progressively through four historical earthquake records. At various levels of damage, ambient vibration tests and low-amplitude white noise base excitations with root-mean-square accelerations of 0.03 g and 0.05 g were applied to the building, which responded as a quasi-linear system with parameters evolving as a function of structural damage...

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