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Engineering science fair project:
Which building design and construction will best withstand an earthquake?

Science Fair Project Information
Title: Which building design and construction will best withstand an earthquake?
Subject: Engineering
Grade level: Middle School - Grades 7-9
Academic Level: Ordinary
Project Type: Experimental
Cost: Low
Awards: 1st place, Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair (2006)
Affiliation: Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair (VSF)
Year: 2006
Description: Main objectives: to build an earthquake machine that will test the stability of different building shapes and construction methods. The parameters tested: overlapped blocks, building height, buttresses, base isolators, roofs, cross braces.
Link: http://www.virtualsciencefair.org/2006/thom6d2/
Short Background

Earthquake engineering is the study of the behavior of buildings and structures subject to seismic loading. It is a subset of both structural and civil engineering. Eminent authority on seismic risk mitigation, Caltech professor George W. Housner is widely considered as the 'father' of the modern field of earthquake engineering. Stanford University professor John Blume’s contributions to the dynamics of structures have earned him the title of the 'father' of earthquake engineering too.

The main objectives of earthquake engineering are:

  • Understand the interaction between buildings or civil infrastructure and the ground.
  • Foresee the potential consequences of strong earthquakes on urban areas and civil infrastructure.
  • Design, construct and maintain structures to perform at earthquake exposure up to the expectations and in compliance with building codes.

A properly engineered structure does not necessarily have to be extremely strong or expensive.

The most powerful and budgetary tools of earthquake engineering are vibration control technologies and, in particular, base isolation.

Earthquake construction is a branch of architectural engineering concerned with making sure structures can withstand as severe an earthquake shock as possible given the materials available.

When, the structure in question is a human habitation, the questions of surviving earthquake damage become much more serious. Examples of inhabited structures collapsing during earthquakes abound and are sadly all too frequent. Areas of the world frequently hit by fatal earthquake damage include Japan, Turkey, Algeria, China and countless other regions on or near tectonic plate boundaries.

Earlier in mankind's history (during the Neolithic, for instance), mankind lived in tents, which can withstand earthquakes quite well. We moved on to more comfortable structures of timber, mud brick, limestone, wattle and daub, and even just stacked rubble.

Some of these materials can be used to form solid, earthquake resistant structures. The important part is to use them wisely and with an understanding of how earthquakes really apply stresses to structures in practice. A structure might have all the appearances of stability, yet offer nothing but danger when an earthquake occurs. The crucial fact is that for safety, earthquake resistant construction techniques are as important as using the correct materials.

For larger structures, more exotic means such as bearings and counterweights are often employed to reduce the impact of lateral ground movement on the protected structure.

The specific mode of failure in an earthquake for most structures is the lateral (sideways) shaking. It frequently collapses walls, or moves them enough that the roof displaces and falls in.

Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)

For More Information:
Building & Construction - Projects & Experiments
Earthquake Engineering
Earthquake construction

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Last updated: June 2013
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