updated 5/4/2005 9:11:43 PM ET 2005-05-05T01:11:43

A blast simulator that can deliver the same punch as a car bomb was unveiled Wednesday in a laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, as part of a federal anti-terrorism program.

The device uses heavy rubber pads driven by hydraulic pistons to create the same split-second effects that explosives would have on columns, beams, floors, ceilings and girders, school officials said.

The $10 million simulator will be used to develop ways of hardening buildings and bridges against terrorist bombs. With the simulator, the absence of an explosive fireball allows high-speed cameras and instruments to record what happens clearly from close up.

On Wednesday, a reinforced concrete building column was hit with the same force as a half-ton car bomb at curbside. The impact, which occurred faster than the eye could see it, left the seven-ton column bent at its center.

Scientists have found that wrapping load-bearing columns with coats of carbon fibers or a steel jacket can prevent concrete columns from breaking apart in an explosion. A carbon-wrapped column hardly budged under the simulated impact of a car bomb during an earlier test, said Frieder Seible, dean of UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering.

The simulator is being funded with $8.6 million from the Technical Support Working Group, a federal organization that develops technologies to combat terrorism. More than 40 tests will be conducted in the simulator over the next two years under a $7.5 million contract.

Seible noted that most of the 168 people killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing were killed from the partial collapse of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, not from the preceding blast.

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