Earthquake Machine (Activity 1 of 2)


Investigate how earthquakes happen with simple hands-on models

The Earthquake Machine is a simple model that helps learners visualize the inputs and outputs of an active fault system that leads to earthquakes. This Earthquake Machine activity (1 of 2) introduces the basics of the model through a qualitative approach. 

Why is it important to learn about the stick-slip behavior of faults and why earthquakes happen? More than 143 million people are exposed to potential earthquake hazards in the U.S. that could cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage. An understanding of earthquakes and their unpredictability is fundamental to earthquake hazard mitigation. An important tool for mitigation is the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning system for the West Coast of the U.S. which detects significant earthquakes quickly so that alerts can be delivered to people and automated systems.


Learners will be able to:

• Use the Earthquake Machine model to demonstrate the causes of earthquakes, noting the flow of energy through the system.

• Summarize the interplay of forces, faults and friction in an earthquake.

• Describe basic physics concepts to include sliding and static friction, forms of energy and conversion from one form to another, and the elastic properties of materials.

• Describe the role of models in the process of science.