Built on Shaky Ground
Reported June 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- It's an unusual event ... A meeting of art and science. But it can make for a "shaky" learning experience, especially when it comes to earthquakes.
Artist Liz Hickok shows off her scale model of the nation's shakiest city, San Francisco. It really rocks and rolls because it's made of ... of all things, JELL-O.
"It's also intended to help us realize that the world we live in and the buildings around us are not as permanent as we might think," Hickok tells Ivanhoe.
Using satellite images, Hickok studies structures like the palace of fine arts and then makes replicas. A table on rollers makes them shake. Hickok says with the shaking, you can kind of get a much more visceral sense of what might happen.
"It's a great segue into science," says geologist Eric Muller, of San Francisco's Exploratorium. Using a bowl filled with wet sand and a mallet, he shows how a quake topples buildings. Many San Francisco structures are built on landfills, areas that used to be water. The sandy sediment is unstable.
"If you send a shockwave through the sediments, it can liquefy and tumble structures over," he says.
Just like packing material in a box, when the sand is shaken, its volume decreases. "And the water rises to the surface, liquefying the surface. You can have a great building, but if the foundation underneath you starts turning into mush, there's not a whole lot you can do," Muller says.
That was one of the factors that contributed to San Francisco's damage after the great earthquake in 1906. This exhibit gives students a sense of what it was like ... And what could happen again.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
For more information about the science of seismology:
Education & Outreach Program Manager
Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology
Washington, DC 20005
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