Students test engineering, design principles with earthquake simulator

Published 4:48 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2018

HOOVER – Though made of toothpicks, gumdrops and marshmallows, some structures built by Berry Middle School sixth grade students held up surprisingly well to a simulated earthquake.

More than 400 students put their engineering and design to the test with an earthquake simulator on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 17-18, as part of a study on earthquakes.

Students began by studying earthquakes in general and the damage they cause to structures.

Then, the students were split into teams and tasked with building something that could withstand earthquake forces.

With a budget of $20, each team could purchase toothpicks (15 cents each), marshmallows (10 cents each) and gumdrops (20 cents each) that were then used to build a model to certain specifications for mass, height and base area.

The teams drew at random for the type of foundation they could use—stone, sand or compacted soil—which of course factored heavily into their models’ resistance to an earthquake.

For the tests, teachers strapped the structures, which were grounded in a small plastic container, into the earthquake simulator and commenced the shaking.

Even for those that withstood the earthquake, teacher Kevin Pughsley threw in some other natural disasters for fun: fire, tsunami and even an asteroid falling from the sky.

The exercise reinforced what students had learned about topics such as the liquefaction of sand during an earthquake and the importance of reinforcing structures in earthquake-prone areas.

Other design principles discussed were base isolation, cross-bracing, shear walls and tension ties.

“It makes them realize there’s not just an easy solution,” Pughsley said about the project. “They have to work together as a team to come up with answers to the problems. And even if they fail, there’s something to learn from that.”