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Make a simple seismograph

Suitable For

Grade 8



Time Required

 <24 Hours



What’s it about?

You may have heard of the ‘Richter scale’ used to measure the severity of an earthquake. This system was developed in 1935 by Charles Richter to measure the ‘magnitude’ or the ‘amount of energy’ released by an earthquake. It measures an earthquake’s magnitude or ‘intensity’ on a scale of 1 to 9, which means that each whole number on the scale represents a 10-fold increase in power.

Scientists use special machines called ‘seismographs’ to record the ‘seismic waves’, or movements in the earth’s crust. Each magnitude number on the ‘Richter scale’ represents the maximum amplitude of a seismic wave at a distance of about 160 kilometres. You can make a simple seismograph to demonstrate how such a machine works in the following science experiment:

Topics covered

Richter scale, Seismograph

What will I need?


Procedure (Method)

Unfortunately, this section is only available in the e-book version of the project.

How does it work?

Unfortunately, this section is only available in the e-book version of the project.

A seismograph is the device that scientists use to measure the severity of earthquakes, and it can accurately record the motion of the ground during a quake. Large trucks or trains can also cause buildings to shake and can cause false readings on a seismograph if it is not isolated in some way. Therefore, accurate seismographs are connected to a large weight of some sort, to prevent the data from being influenced by surface vibrations.

In this science experiment you created a very simple seismograph by hanging a large weight (the bottle) from a rope over a table. By attaching the felt tipped pen to the weight and taping a piece of paper to the table so that the pen can draw on the paper, you can record tremors in the Earth’s crust. It would however take a pretty large tremor for you to see anything, and hence you have to shake the table to demonstrate how the seismograph works. In a real seismograph, levers or electronics are used to magnify the signal so that very small tremors can be detected. On the Richter scale, anything below 2.0 is undetectable to a normal person and is called a micro quake.

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