1.3 Students will understand that interactions within and among
systems cause changes in matter and energy.
2.2 Students will also apply science knowledge and skills to
solve problems or meet challenges.
How different soils react during an earthquake.
Observing, comparing and contrasting, and identifying relationships.
Students will test soils’ reaction to ground shaking representing
60 minutes or less
1. Compare what happens to the water when using different soils;
describe what happens between water and soil for each type tested.
2. How would these differing soils affect human development, such as
structures or houses?
3. How can people plan for
earthquakes when considering a
new building location?
4. How can people plan for
earthquakes if their houses are
already in hazardous places?
5. How can people find out if their
houses are in hazardous places?
Permission is granted to
photocopy this lesson. There is no copyright.
Simple Home Experiments for Bringing Geology to Life
Experiment 1: SHAKE, RATTLE, AND Liquefy
When sediments liquefy, they lose their structure and strength. During
earthquake shaking, the individual grains of sand within a deposit collapse on each
other. Anything built on them can sink or collapse. Picture a container of balls of slightly
different sizes–baseballs, golfballs, marbles. If they were transported by water into the
container and then deposited, they would settle with spaces between them. Some of the
spaces would be filled with water, some with air. When you shake the container, the balls
settle against each other, and the water and air are forced to the surface. That is exactly
what happens in a sediment-filled valley. The valley is a large ‘container’ holding gazillions
of ‘balls’ or grains of sand. Shaking the container simulates an earthquake.
- Transparent (glass) baking pan
- Enough dry sand to fill your pan 1 to 2 inches
- A few toy houses or wooden blocks
We know that flat river valley bottoms
are prone to flooding, but we often think of them as
being geologically stable. This experiment will teach
you what happens to sandy soils when they liquefy. It
will show you how to create a ‘model’ river valley,
then watch how and why houses get damaged or collapse
during an earthquake in a seemingly stable geologic
- Evenly pour the dry sand into the baking pan.
- Mark the level of the sand on the side of the pan.
- Place the houses or blocks gently on the surface.
- Slowly add water until about two-thirds of the
thickness of the sand is saturated.
- Gently start shaking the table on which you have
placed your baking pan (or the pan itself).
You should see the following:
- The water will work its way to the surface, flooding the area around the houses,
- The houses will start leaning over and sinking into the sand, and
- The volume of the sand should decrease by a small amount.
Now be creative. Try the experiment using clay or gravel to
separate sand layers and represent different types of sedimentary layers. Watch what happens
to the water and the surface of your model of a river valley.
Wendy Gerstel, Geologist
Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources
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