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Building and Testing Earthquake-Proof Structures

In this activity, students try to build structures that will withstand a Richter 8 shaking. Materials may be used alone or in combination.

 Not all structures withstand ground motion in the same way. Size, shape and materials used all make a difference. Structures have a natural frequency and they have a certain (totally acceptable) amount of flex

Ductility and malleability tell us how much a material can be stretched and shaped before it fractures.

Malleability is the ability of materials to deform easily under compressive stress. This can be often characterized as materials ability to form thin sheets by hammering or rolling.

 Ductility is the ability of materials to deform easily under tensile stress (pulling). Steel and aluminum are both very malleable and ductile.

In an earthquake, materials like aluminum and steel can perform better than brittle materials like brick and stone. 


  • Model and describe the effect of earthquakes on buildings.


  • Per Class or Group:
    earthquake simulator (alternatively, a box top could be used)
    containers of various building materials (K’NEX, LEGO, KEVA or other)

Key Questions

  • Which materials worked the best? Why?
  • Were taller or shorter buildings more stable? Wider or skinnier?

What To Do

  1. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4.
  2. Each group receives a bucket of building materials.
  3. Students build towers with some constraints. Create your own challenges or try some of these:
    • The building must have 2 floors and be at least _____ cm tall.
    • The building may not extend out past a given base.
    • Some buildings may only use LEGO, K’NEX or a combination of the two.You may wish to add a time limit.
  4. Test the structures using the earthquake simulator.Alternative: For a less accurate (but still fun) option, affix the structure to a box top or piece of cardboard and shake increasingly harder.


  • How does this relate to Science World Resource -What’s Shakin’?
  • How does this relate to Science World Resource -Liquefaction?
  • What materials would be best for real buildings?
  • What characteristics should these materials have?

Other Resources

Discovery Network News | How Does the Richter Scale Work

Government of British Columbia | Master of Disaster Youth Education

Prepared BC | Earthquake and Tsunami Guide PDF

Government of British Columbia | Earthquake Preparedness and Response

Government of Canada | Natural Resources Canada |  Earthquakes Canada