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Seismic Isolation - California Academy of Sciences

Seismic isolation is a technique that reduces damage to buildings and their contents in earthquakes.

Learn More About Seismic Isolation 


Photo credit: Mike Renlund

Base isolators are flexible pads or bearings that separate a building from the foundation and therefore reduce the shaking (displacement and acceleration) of the building during an earthquake.

These two short videos compare the performance of a base isolated building and one on a traditional foundation when subjected to an earthquake.

The most common types of isolators are lead-rubber bearings and sliding bearings. A more detailed discussion of the principles of base isolation is found here

Resources For Your Classroom 

  • NEESacademy: Base Isolation Lesson Plans
  • Physics on the Kitchen Table: Base Isolated Buildings
  • Teachers on the Leading Edge: Base Isolation for Earthquake Resistance [PDF]
  • What Does Happen in an Earthquake? [VIDEO]
  • What Makes the Earth Shake? [VIDEO]
  • Exciting Earthquake Experiments [VIDEO]
  • Engineers Working to Make Us Safer [VIDEO]
  • Interactive Animation of Base-Isolated Building [Java Applet]

Are There Structures In My Community That Are Base Isolated? 


Photo credit: Brion Vibber

As of 2003 there were more than 200 base isolated buildings and bridges in the United States. Some well known examples are the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco International Airport International Terminal, San Francisco City Hall, Los Angeles City Hall, Pasadena City Hall, and the Utah State Capitol.

Read about these and other examples at this link.

NEES Projects Researching Seismic Isolation 


Learn more about these isolators featured in the California Academy of Science's "EARTHQUAKE" Planetarium Show!


See a full-scale base-isolated five-story building model shaken on the largest outdoor shake table in the world at UC San Diego.


Hear a NEES researcher discuss testing isolators at E-Defense, the largest shake table in the world located in Japan.

What is NEES? 

Click the link below to watch a brief video introduction to NEES

Resources for: Students, TeachersProfessionals

NEES focuses on accelerating innovations in infrastructure design and construction practices to minimize damage during earthquakes or tsunamis. Recently, NEES engineers shook a full-scale base-isolated five-story building model on the largest outdoor shake table in the world at UC San Diego. Watch the video!

Our Challenge: Reduce the impact of earthquakes and tsunamis on society through research, engineering, science, and education.

Our Mission: NEES’s mission is to accelerate improvements in seismic design and performance by serving as an indispensible collaboratory for discovery and innovation.