Shake table

Did you know that it’s possible to build an earthquake simulator out of only LEGO bricks? This is a cool teaching tool that my partners and I developed for a week-long civil engineering kids’ camp. It requires two EV3 kits (or one plus two large motors) and a quantity of LEGO bricks.

LEGO Shaketable

LEGO Shake Table powered by EV3 brick

We used the shake table in a discussion about material properties. The challenge was this: students were given raw spaghetti, marshmallows, and cheeseballs and were told to build a structure that must:

  • Be at least 18” tall
  • Have at least 2 “floors”
  • Have a base that is less than ½ a spaghetti stick wide
  • Be able to protect a LEGO minifigure in an “earthquake”

The main objective was for students to discover that cheeseballs, a brittle material, was better for supporting weight in a static structure, but marshmallows, which have greater ductility, were more likely to withstand dynamic loading from an earthquake.

Open LEGO shaketable displaying gear trains inside

LEGO Shake Table: Under the Cover

If you’ve already got the kit and the LEGO bricks, this is your cheapest solution to building your own home-made shake table. The table can be coded in LEGO MINDSTORMS. So far, we have developed MINDSTORMS EV3 code for a random earthquake simulator and for one that starts slow and ramps up to top speed.

Building the shake table itself is an exercise in using gear trains, translating rotational motion into linear motion, and combining power sources to run the same gears. Click here for building instructions!

This design was created by Tufts University students Grace Olsen, Tara Watson, and Christian Proctor.

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