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Understanding and improving the seismic behavior of pile foundations in soft clays

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This engineering educational module on the behavior of piles in soft clays during earthquake loading sought to introduce engineering as a viable career to 8th graders as well as teach students how geotechnical engineers design foundations in marginal soils to minimize damage to infrastructure during earthquakes. This module could also be used at various educational levels, from elementary to middle and high school, as well as at the undergraduate level, with appropriate modifications. A five hour module was created to simulate real-world behavior of piles in soft clays during earthquake loading, as well as visually show the improvement in how these same piles behave after being stabilized with deep soil mixing. In this module, soft soil was simulated by using Jell-o®, piles were simulated using Slim Jims® and soil stabilization was simulated using peanut butter,  marshmallows or cheese. Each student group had to design a stabilization procedure to strengthen the piles. The students competed to see who could design a pile with the least amount of deflection for the least amount of money. An abbreviated module was also administered to a group of Middle School science and mathematics teachers. The students’ and teachers’ learning and perceptions were assessed by administering pre- and postassessment questions, which were matched. 

Learning Objectives and Standards

Links to the National Science Standards and to individual State Science Standards are available by using this link:

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Amy Cerato; Amirata Taghavi; Muralee Muraleetharan; NEES EOT (2011), "Understanding and improving the seismic behavior of pile foundations in soft clays,"

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