Seismic Shake-Up


  • 1

    Here’s what you’ll do in this activity

    • Build a shake table—a device engineers use to simulate the back-and-forth shaking of an earthquake. 
    • Design a building that’s stable and sturdy enough to survive an earthquake.
    • Test your building on the shake table and see what happens!


  • 2

    Here are the materials to make the shake table

    • 2 pieces of sturdy cardboard (about 8½ x 11 in or A4)
    • 2 thick rubber bands
    • 2 tennis balls
    • 2 large binder clips
    • paint stirrer (or thick piece of cardboard) to make a handle
    • masking tape
    • ruler
  • 3

    Build the shake table

    • Wrap the rubber bands around the width of both pieces of cardboard. Space them about 4 inches apart.
    • Slide two tennis balls in between the pieces of cardboard, and position them underneath each rubber band.


  • 4

    Add a handle and test it

    • Tape the paint stirrer under the top piece of cardboard.  
    • Hold the bottom of the shake table with one hand. With the other, pull the handle, and let it go! Watch it shake. 
  • 5

    Here are the materials to make your building

    • 20–30 wooden or plastic coffee stirrers  
    • 1/4 lb (100+ grams) modeling clay (about half the size of a fist); non-hardening Plasticine® preferred (or you can use poster putty)
    • manila file folder or thin piece of cardboard (8.5 x 11 inch or A4), as the base of your building
    • ruler (to measure height)
  • 6

    Think about the challenge

    • Have paper and a pencil ready to write down ideas and sketches as you design.
    • How can you use coffee stirrers and clay to build a sturdy building that won’t collapse when shaken?
    • Your building must be at least 6 inches (15 cm) tall.  


  • 7

    Build it

    • Attach the base directly to the piece of cardboard (or the manila folder).
  • 8

    Build it (continued)

    • Measure your building. Remember: It must be at least 6 inches tall (15 cm).
  • 9

    Test your building

    • Attach the file folder with your building on top of it to the shake table with the binder clips.
    • Use one hand to hold the bottom of the shake table against a surface, pull the handle with the other, and let go! Earthquake!
  • 10

    What happened?

    • What did testing help you understand about your building? 
    • How safe would you feel if you were inside it during an earthquake? 
    • What could you do to make your building even better at withstanding an earthquake?
    • If your building didn’t survive all that shaking, it’s time to ...


  • 11


    • Tip: if your building falls over, maybe your base is too small. Make it wider and sturdier.   
    • Tip: if your building collapses, add triangular shapes. Triangles are stronger than squares or rectangles because all three sides of a triangle carry some of the load (weight). 
    • Tip: if your building wobbles, make sure all parts are securely fastened together or add cross-braces for more stability.



  • 12

    Did you know?

    • The Tallest Tower!

    Tokyo Sky Tree is the tallest tower in the world (634 m; 2,080 ft). It’s also located right in the heart of an earthquake zone. So its engineers and architects needed to build a tower with the latest anti-earthquake technology. One way they did this was by standing the tower on a triangular, pyramid-shaped base. 

    While still under construction, the tower was put to the test when?a tremendous 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck Tokyo. Sky Tree’s earthquake-resistant features worked beautifully—there was no structural damage and none of the construction workers caught in the building during the quake were injured. 

  • 13

    Try this next!

    • Take it to the next level and build an even taller building! How tall can you go?
    • Try building a bridge, a tower, or get creative with a futuristic skyscraper that’s earthquake proof.