An Overview:

Shakes and Quakes is a program designed to help students more fully understand civil engineering and earthquakes. This is accomplished through the use of Legos and K'Nex and a Shaker Table to teach the fundamentals of structural design and lessening the effects of earthquakes. On day one of the project the university makes a presentation to the class that introduces earthquakes and the building project. Two weeks later the buildings are tested on the shaking table and then a second presentation is given, which introduces civil engineering concepts.

Program History:

1998 -- In response to a 3rd grade Stanley Clark Elementary teacher's request for a guest lecture, Dr. Bill Spencer created a Lego (masonry) building contest that taught the basics of structural engineering and introduced the fundamental principles in his MR damping developments. This was the basis for Shakes and Quakes Outreach Program.

1999 -- Shirley Dyke developed the University Consortium on Instructional Shake Tables, sponsored by the NSF and Mid-America Earthquake Center. Twenty-three institutions joined this consortium, including Notre Dame, with the goal of utilizing the Quanser tables for improving earthquake engineering in undergraduate education and for educational outreach purposes.

1999 -- The Shakes and Quakes Program was expanded to include K'Nex (steel) structures and introduced to the 5th grade level at Stanley Clark Elementary.

2001 -- Shakes and Quakes continued at Stanley Clark and was introduced to a seventh grade class at Andrew Jackson M.S. In the spring, Shakes and Quakes was handed over to the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute chapter at Notre Dame, headed by Dr. Kurama.

Steps to Beginning a Similar Program at Your University:

1.) Obtain a shaking table. The UCIST and Notre Dame obtained portable Shaker Tables from Quanser Consulting. Manuals and software are availabe on the UCIST webpage.


If your institution already has a shaking table and it is not portable, this program can be changed so that on the second classroom visit made by the university team, the students actually come to your facilities for "Quake Day."

2.) Because students are building with K'Nex and Legos, it is necessary to have special metal plates that will connect to the Shaking Table and building materials. For information on these, you can e-mail Dr. Spencer. Other supplies needed include Lego and K'Nex sets.

3.) Using Simulink and WinCon3 you can create a model to run on the Table for the Lego buildings that generates band-limited white noise. (**Running a historical earthquake like Kobe will not cause the Lego buildings to fail**). For the K'Nex a sine wave is used from Quanser's Pendant Controller that increases in magnitude until the resonance frequency is reached. A sample whitenoise model is provided: Sample Simulink model.

*Note: In the Matlab window you must first run the design.m and varwhite.m files before building this model to run in WinCon.

4.) Elementary and middle school teachers will be able to use all of the resources provided on this website under the Teacher link, which provides handouts, a lesson plan, and various other resources. The university needs only to make two visits of about 45 minutes each to the classroom:

Feedback from previous participants:

Student comments

Teacher comments




Dr. Bill Spencer

Dr. Kurama



Quanser Consulting --



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