Earthquake Magnitude—Modeling with Pasta Quake

2min 40s Novice

  • Instructor Guide
  • Pasta Quake Lesson
Download All 2MB

How can I demonstrate the magnitude scale in the classroom?

Using only strands of spaghetti, you and your class can explore the amount of energy released for each level of the earthquake magnitude scale. The demo begins with one piece of spaghetti. Bend the piece between your hands until it breaks. Notice the work it takes to break the spaghetti. Call this a 5 on the Pasta Magnitude scale (M5). Now ask, “What would you need to multiply this single piece of spaghetti by to equal a Pasta Magnitude 6? (The answer is 32.)

Next, Hold up a bundle of 32 strands of spaghetti. Bend the bundle until it breaks. Notice the work it takes to break the bundle. If the pasta magnitude scale were like the earthquake magnitude scale, this would be a Pasta Magnitude 6 break. 

The demo then proceeds through a magnitude 8 quake. The results are surprising and provides students with a physical model students can use to understand the energy released in various sized quakes.  


Students will be able to:

  • Describe the earthquake magnitude scale
  • recognize the change in energy release between each step of the scale


Earthquake magnitude:

  • increases by a factor of 32 for each increase in magnitude
  • can be visualized by breaking increasing bundles of pasta


Related Fact-Sheets

Earth is an active place and earthquakes are always happening somewhere. In fact, the National Earthquake Information Center locates about 12,000-14,000 earthquakes each year! This fact sheet illustrates information on the frequency of earthquakes of various magnitudes, along with details on the effects of earthquakes and the equivalent energy release.

NOTE: Out of stock; self-printing only.

Fact-Sheet Novice

Related Animations

The "moment magnitude" scale has replaced the Richter scale for large earthquakes. Scientists have developed far-more sensitive seismometers that, with faster computers, have enabled them to record & interpret a broader spectrum of seismic signals than was possible in the 1930's, when the Richter magnitude was developed. Find out what scientists learn from seismograms.

Animation Novice

Related Videos

Understanding the magnitude change, thus the relative energy released from say, magnitude 7 to magnitude 8 can be challenging. Dr. Robert Butler (Univ. of Portland) uses spaghetti to illustrate the concept by breaking pasta to show how each step up in magnitude represents a huge jump in the size of the pasta bundles. Each step in magnitude is represented by 32 times more spaghetti noodles.

Video Novice