Engineering professor Lawrence Selna is researching the ability of bridges in California to withstand large earthquakes.
The project is funded by the state Department of Transportation, the National Science Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration.
The state has contracted with UCLA to have Selna evaluate the effectiveness of a pinning technique to hold sections of a bridge together with steel cables or rods.
Selna and 14 students have built a device capable of exerting 1.5-million pounds of pull to test bridge safety.
The experiments are part of a major program by Caltrans to re-fit many of the state's bridges to correct weaknesses revealed in the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, university officials said. In the quake, which occurred before the pinning technique was in use, five bridges were destroyed and 57 were damaged, they reported.
In a survey after the quake, officials found that about 1,200 of the state's 13,000 bridges and overpasses would require reinforcement to withstand future temblors.