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May 21, 2003

Media Contact:
    Troy Anderson, (858) 822-3075 or


With a little help from Professor Andre Filiatrault, fifth-graders at Rancho Bernardo’s Turtleback Elementary School designed, built, and tested wood frame structures on an earthquake simulating shake table at the Jacobs School’s Powell Structural Research Laboratories in order to determine their earthquake resilience. The youngsters worked in teams to create five, foot-high structures on square plywood bases, comprised of 200 Popsicle sticks and white glue, and reinforced with 14 meters of dental floss. Upon completion, each structure had to support the weight of a standard red brick.

First, in their classroom, Filiatrault indoctrinated the kids on some of the fundamentals of earthquakes and some ways to mitigate damage with various structural designs. “The goal was to generate an interest in engineering and structural design, spark creativity and most importantly, have fun,” said Filiatrault, whose daughter was among the participants. Then, the fifth-graders brought their creations to UCSD. “Each team clamped their very unique designs to the shake table in the lab and tested their structures’ responses to an exact simulation of the 1994 Northridge earthquake – specifically, did the buildings suffer damage and how well did they support the weight of the brick?”

Each of the six structures fared perfectly during the simulations, neither suffering damage nor dropping the bricks. Then, to have some added fun and after some friendly pressure from the onlookers, Filiatrault cranked up the volume, replaced the bricks with pieces of steel, and watched as the youngsters cheered at their buildings’ eventual collapse. “To their credit, it took some ‘creative’ shaking on my part to reach failure. These kids did a great job and truly became engineers. They envisioned, they designed, they built, they tested, and they evaluated. I am very impressed,” Filiatrault remarked.

Andre Filiatrault is an expert in earthquake engineering, structural dynamics, and shake table testing of large scale structural components and systems. Recently, he was a principal investigator in the Caltech-CUREe Woodframe Project, an initiative to reduce damage to residential buildings during earthquakes. Filiatrault’s full-scale dynamic tests, simulating ground motions of recorded earthquakes, have led to improved building design codes.

Structural engineering Professor Andre Filiatrault gives overview of the design project
Length 1:36

The kids prepare to shake their structures
Length 2:33

The kids cheer as their creations finally fail
Length 1:34

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