This week we were fascinated to find out how special engineering techniques are used to create buildings that can endure a sizeable earthquake. However, during a very strong quake, many buildings will still suffer severe damage. Engineers design buildings to withstand as much sideways motion as possible, in order to minimise damage to the structure and give the occupants time to get out safely. Armed with our new knowledge, we held class competitions to create the tallest spaghetti structure that would withstand an earthquake (created by our teachers!) We realised that our buildings needed to be strong yet flexible, in order to withstand ground motion. Many groups included shock absorbers or ‘base isolation’ as part of their design. Some thought about connecting the walls, floor, roof, and foundations to create a box shape. This was designed to hold together and move as a unit when shaken, rather than cracking and collapsing. We also learnt to build with a lightweight roof and walls, to minimise damage if parts did fall! Another technique to dampen the swaying of a tall building, is to build in a mass that can sway at the top, acting as a balance. These are known as ‘mass dampers’ but proved quite tricky to create from the materials we had!
Teamwork was an essential part of this activity and we all had lots of fun creating and testing our designs together. However, the activity also made us thankful that we don’t have to worry about the dangers of serious earthquakes here in the UK.