Moving house: investigating earthquakes and building materials


Did you know that buildings move? What happens to buildings if there is an earthquake or strong wind?

This activity puts a new spin on the old STEM Club favourite of reinforced jellies. Students make their own reinforced jellies and test to see whether they can withstand vibrations, to mimic an earthquake situation. Your club or class will have to conclude which material they feel is the best to choose for reinforcing jelly.

This session should fill two club time slots as a short project (or it can be used as part of a longer project if the extras are followed).


What you'll need

  • Jelly
  • Hot water
  • Stopwatch
  • Jug (or beaker) to make jelly in
  • Old newspaper (to cover the table!)
  • Polystyrene cups
  • A variety of materials such as wooden splints, string, wool, pasta etc.
  • Vibration - try the jitterbug at product code BUG 001 as a cost effective method for vibration; you will also need to stick the jitterbug to the table using plasticine.
  • You will also need an AA battery.

What to do

Students will be investigating how structures can be reinforced to withstand an earthquake.  The resource looks at making the strongest jelly that will move but not break under vibration.  Follow the detailed step-by-step instructions within the resource to make different batches of jellies to different consistencies before making the jitterbug to carry out extensive testing.  An extension activity involves putting materials such as drinking straws or wooden splints into the jelly to strengthen the structure.

The resource contains lots of questions to ask of students when they are doing this activity such as which is the best jelly? what effects do they observe? which encourages them to investigate what is happening to the structures as well as other sections containing stretch and challenge activities, explanations and handy hints for those delivering the activity.

Engineering is...

... ensuring that buildings, roads and structures are built to be strong enough. Being able to understand forces and materials is essential for civil engineers.

Civil engineering courses can be taken at many universities, with entry requirements covering A levels, Advanced Diplomas and Scottish Advanced Highers

Related fields: Construction and architectural engineering.

Why not try an apprenticeship in Engineering Construction The Engineering Construction industry plays an important role in the UK economy through the design, construction and maintenance of industrial processing and energy production facilities that are essential to the country’s prosperity and way of life.

In Scotland visit and in Wales visit information about Apprenticeships on the Careers Wales website.