Earthquake Simulator

Bonnie J. Keller

Based on plans obtained at Christopher Newport University’s Teachers as Researchers program, 1994



Materials:      3 – 2x4s, 6’ long

                        1 plywood square, 24”

                        4 bungee cords, 24-30” each

                        8 large eyescrews

                        wood screws

                        2 “cabinet” handles (not knobs – bar-type handles)







1.      Cut one of the 2x4s into 2 3’ sections.

2.      Use the screws and 2x4’s to construct a 6’x 3’ frame. Reinforce at corners, if you desire.

3.      Drill the eyescrews into 2 opposite sides of the plywood square, 2 on each side.

4.      Use the remaining eyescrews on the frame, 2 on each 3’ end piece, about 2’ apart.

5.      Drill 4 holes (make a large square) in the plywood for mounting the constructed “houses”. (You’ll need some wingnuts, washers,  and bolts to do this.) Make a note of where you drill, as that will determine where on the “houses” students need to have their holes drilled, as well. I drill mine about 6” in from each corner, which means my students need to have their house bases roughly 18” square, with holes near the corners.

6.      Mount the cabinet handles near the edges of the plywood square, on the same edges as the eyescrews.

7.      Fasten the square to the frame using the bungee cords.



You can make your own “Richter Scale” or Mercalli Scale by testing the frame with your own “houses” and making notes of how much damage is done when you pull the bungee back 6”, 12”, 18”, etc. Use as many intervals as you like, and mark them on the frame for future reference. How much damage will occur will vary with the type of bungee, size of bungee, etc.


Instructions for “earthquake houses” are common online. I have used the “Towering Toothpick” kits from various science supply catalogs, as well as had the students make up their own kits using a specific number of sticks, straws, etc. A nice comparison is to have some students use sticks, others use straws, and see the difference that construction materials make. I’ve also seen versions where the students had to suspend a mass within the structure, etc. Lots of ways to do this, so feel free to experiment (pun intended).


Here’s a site that might be of interest:



My “sketch” of the Earthquake Simulator:





Darkest lines are the 2x4’s

Double lines are the bungees

Arrows are the screw eyes

Circles are the drilled holes

Small lines in the square are the handles