Base Isolation for Earthquake Resistance

Larry Braile (Purdue University) and TOTLE (Teachers on the Leading Edge) Project


This document includes two activities related to earthquake base isolation. Learners explore earthquake hazards and damage to buildings by constructing model buildings and subjecting the buildings to ground vibration (shaking similar to earthquake vibrations) on a small shake table. Base isolation a powerful tool for earthquake engineering. It is meant to enable a building to survive a potentially devastating seismic impact through a proper initial design or subsequent modifications. The buildings are constructed by two- or three-person learner teams.

Disciplinary Core Ideas
Earth and Human Activity: MS-ESS3-2, HS-ESS3-1
Engineering Design: MS-ETS1-1, HS-ETS1-1, HS-ETS1-3
Waves and their Applications: MS-PS4-2
Energy: MS-PS3-2, MS-PS3-5, HS-PS3-2

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This activity could be done with introductory learners in secondary school or even early college. Can be used in conjunction with a Earth science unit or as a practical example of engineering design in an engineering or physical science unit.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Learners should know what earthquakes are.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity can largely stand alone once learners know what earthquakes are. However in a larger unit on earthquakes it should probably come later when the topic moves from understanding what earthquakes are to how they affect our society and address steps we can take to mitigate earthquake risk. Works well in conjunction with Build a Better Wall and BOSS Model: Building Oscillation Seismic Simulation


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learners will be able to:

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials


See attached file for educator notes, NGSS alignment, links to supporting resources, and student exercises.
Base Isolation for Earthquake Resistance Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 478kB May20 18)

Supporting Presentation/Audiovisual

Teaching Notes and Tips

See above educator notes.


Formative assessment of student understanding can be gathered from classroom observation and discussions with individuals or small groups.
The student exercise serves as the summative assessment for the activity. Some questions have clearly correct answers. Teachers can develop a simple grading scheme for open ended questions such as two points for thorough and correct answer, one point for partially correct, and zero for incorrect.

References and Resources