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Make Your Own Earthquake: Testing Earthquakes on Paper Buildings

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This 45 minute activity uses accelerometers to test earthquakes on paper buildings. Developed by Mr. Steven Smith, Purdue University, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science. Please download attachments for detailed directions.

Make your own earthquake

Learning Objectives and Standards

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

Material List

  • Presentation phase
    • Computer with the PowerPoint installed
    • Projector or equivalent
  • Building phase (per group)
    • 1 sheet of card stock (cut into 1" wide 8" long strips)
    • 1 3x5 note card
    • 1 meter of tape
    • 1 tray
    • 1 golf ball
    • 1 Ruler
  • Testing phase
    • Car creeper
    • Accelerometer
    • Computer with go link installed


  • Go through the PowerPoint discussing slides and concepts
  • Have students work in groups of 3-4 to build a structure following the 3 rules
    • Must use only the materials provided
    • Structure must be 15cm in height (the bottom of the ball must be 15cm off the tray)
    • Structure must hold the golf ball (the ball cannot be taped down)
  • Have groups bring their structure to the test area
  • Go over each structure looking for violations (I call them building code violations)
  • Test each structure by placing the try on the car creeper (shaker) and shaking while gradually increasing intensity of the shaking until the structure fails
  • Record on board the “amount” of shaking each building withstood
  • Compare structures and allow students to redesign a building if you have time that would allow them to do so.
  • Discussion and wrap up

Links and Resources

For more information on obtaining an accelerometer, please visit:

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Steven C. Smith (2011), "Make Your Own Earthquake: Testing Earthquakes on Paper Buildings,"

    BibTex | EndNote