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Groovy Earthquake Proof Skyscrapers

 Groovy Earthquake Proof Skyscrapers

“An earthquake is such fun when it is over.” – George Orwell

A long time ago, our ancestors believed earthquakes to be the act of the Gods. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, was the first to realise that earthquakes were more than an act of the Gods. To this day, STEMists continue to tame the devastating effects earthquakes have on human lives, buildings, roads, and power supplies.

How do people build structures that resist earthquake damage? Well, in the past it wasn’t really possible. The building materials available were limited to stone, brick, wood, thatch – none of them good for surviving earthquakes or high winds. Modern skyscrapers are made possible by modern building materials, especially steel.

What is steel?

Steel is iron mixed with other substances and/or given special treatments.  Carbon steel is iron mixed with carbon.  Depending on the amounts of each element, carbon steel can be brittle and hard like cast iron (e.g. a skillet) or soft and workable like wrought iron (think of a groovy iron gate.)

Wrought Iron Gate

Groovy Wrought Iron Gate

Alloy steel is iron mixed with other metals such as chromium, nickel, or vanadium.  The metals in the mix are chosen to make the iron stronger or lighter.  Tool steel is specially treated to be strong through a process called tempering.  The steel is quickly heated to a high temperature, quickly cooled (quenched) and heated again to a lower temperature.  Finally, stainless steel is mixed with high amounts of chromium and nickel to make it smooth, easy to clean and polish. Stainless steel is used for eating utensils and surgical instruments.

How do STEMists make buildings earthquake resistant?

The more lightweight and flexible a building is, the better it can withstand the lateral (sideways) forces of an earthquake.  Skyscrapers are built around a steel frame that supports the weight of the walls and floors.  Regular buildings use the walls to support the weight of the house or other structure, but in a skyscraper the weight of all those upper walls would be too much for the lower walls to support.  Steel makes tall buildings possible.

From the spire of the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai during construction

From the spire of the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai during construction

The foundation of a skyscraper is extremely important. Think of a pyramid with its wide base. Would it stand as well if turned upside down? Of course not!  Base-isolation, an engineering design, is used to prevent damage to buildings from the seismic impact from earthquakes. This technique where the bottom section of a building absorb the seismic waves of energy to prevent damage, was used as far back as the Mausoleum of Cyrus.

Mausoleum of Cyrus, the oldest base-isolated structure in the world

Mausoleum of Cyrus, the oldest base-isolated structure in the world

Skyscrapers are placed on a foundation designed to absorb vibrations from earthquakes.  Architects design flexible springs and cushioned cylinders to act as shock absorbers.  Think of the shock absorbers on a car.  Without proper shocks, the car would bounce dangerously as it moved over potholes or railroad crossings. The shocks keep all the tires on the ground despite bumps, just as a building’s foundation keeps the building from tipping or moving off the foundation.

Flexible springs and cushioned cylinders to act as shock absorbers

Architects design flexible springs and cushioned cylinders to act as shock absorbers.

A shake table is a device used to determine how well a building will react to earthquakes.  To see how well structures will react to earthquake shocks, building models are placed on massive outdoor shake tables and subjected to an array of ground motion energy.

Shake Table

Outdoor Shake Table

Burj Khalifa building in Dubai
The Burj Khalifa, the world’s largest skyscraper, is so tall the tip of the top sphere is visible from 95 kilometers away on a clear day. It has an enormous “mass dampener” or harmonic absorber. This is a device mounted inside skyscrapers to absorb vibrations that might otherwise damage the building. The aluminum used in the building weighs as much as five A380 aircraft and the concrete weighs as much as 100,000 elephants. The Burj Khalifa’s aesthetic and environmental design mimics the look of a hymenocallis flower with its shaped central spire while collecting 15 million gallons of water every year.

Burj Khalifa building in Dubai

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa building in Dubai

Design and Inspiration from Nature

Burj Khalifa compared with some other well-known tall structures

Burj Khalifa compared with some other well-known tall structures (not all pictured are, however, earthquake proof.)

Taipei 101 building in Taiwan

In Taiwan, the Taipei 101 building (over 449 meters high) includes a central column that acts as a pendulum to balance the sideways movement of seismic waves from earthquakes and typhoons.  Architects got this idea from ancient pagodas (temples) which have stood for centuries in earthquake-prone areas.  The Japanese used the same pagoda idea when they built the Yokohama Landmark Tower (296 meters tall.)

Taipei 101 building in Taiwan

Taipei 101 Skyline

Taipei 101 building in Taiwan

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia
The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, stand 452 meters high. They were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004 and remain the tallest twin towers in the world. They include the world’s tallest 2-story bridge connecting the 41st and 42nd floors. The bridge is designed to slide in and out of the buildings as the wind causes the buildings to sway–safer than a rigid design would be.

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia

The Petronas Towers at dusk.

Petronas Towers Skyline

The Petronas Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Tower dominate the skyline of Kuala Lumpur’s Central Business District.

U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles
In the United States, earthquakes are most closely associated with the state of California, although there are fault lines in other areas of the country as well. The U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles is 310 meters high. It is also known as the Library Tower because it includes a restored Los Angeles library.

U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles

U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles Skyline

Downtown Los Angeles Skyline

TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco
Another famous skyscraper in California is the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco. This elongated pyramid was built to allow sunlight to reach the surrounding areas in spite of the building’s height of 260 meters. That was pretty groovy for them to do for their not so tall neighbors. Because of the shape of the building, the majority of the windows can pivot 360 degrees so they can be washed from the inside. The spire is actually hollow and lined with a 100-foot steel stairway at a 60 degree angle, followed by two steel ladders. There used to be a public observation deck on the 27th floor, but it was closed after 9/11. That means you can only check out the view by looking at the live feeds at the Visitor Center.

TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco

TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco

TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco

Interior TransAmerica Pyramid

There is a commemorative plaque in honor of Bummer and Lazarus, the famous dogs of the 1850s, at the base of the building.

Bummer and Lazarus, the famous dogs of the 1850s

Buildings of the Future

The Wilshire Grand Tower
The Wilshire Grand Tower will be 335 meters tall when completed. It will then be the tallest building in Los Angeles and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

The Wilshire Grand Tower

Salesforce Tower (once called the Transbay Tower)
Also being built in San Francisco is the Salesforce Tower (once called the Transbay Tower.) This building will be 326 meters tall and second tallest building west of the Mississippi. It was begun in 2013 and is expected to be open in 2018.

Salesforce Tower (once called the Transbay Tower)

Architects and engineers are always looking for new ideas to build groovier buildings, especially in earthquake-prone areas. Old ideas like the pagoda and new ideas like modern alloy steel and harmonic absorbers can combine to make buildings that look groovy and stand tall through the forces of nature.

Learn More about earthquakes and earthquake proof structures with “Shake It Up” Groovy Lab in a Box!

Shake It Up” Engineering Design Challenge: You are a groovy earthquake engineer who has been contracted by the city of Los Angeles. Using only the materials from your Groovy Lab in a Box, can you design and build the tallest skyscraper that can withstand the next BIG quake?

During their engineering design process, STEMists will investigate what causes earthquakes while constructing a groovy seismograph and shake table. Explore S and P waves, fault planes, famous earthquake proof structures around the world and much, much more! From their groovy lab notebook, STEMists do investigation activities which work in tandem with the special “Beyond…in a Box” online learning portal. This is a unique feature of Groovy Lab in a Box because it gives STEMists a deeper understanding of that month’s topic. “Beyond…in a Box” has videos, reading library and more interactive activities to supplement what they are learning from the box projects, which also helps the STEMist even more when completing the design challenge.

Join Now! and challenge your STEMists to a monthly Groovy Lab in a Box, full of everything a child needs to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investigations and engineering design challenges. Our monthly box activates thinking, questioning, inquiring and original creation as we guide children through scientific inquiry and the engineering design process.

Groovy Ways To Attract Backyard Birds

More than 50 million Americans are considered backyard birders, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.  After gardening, it’s the second-most popular hobby in the country.  What many birders may not realize is that there is a science to feeding birds.

Groovy Ways To Attract Backyard Birds

Bird Metabolism

STEMists may be shocked to learn that birds need at least 10,000 calories each day.  Comparatively, an appropriate daily calorie intake for an active 9-13 year old STEMist is 1,800-2,200.  Birds need a massive amount of calories because their metabolism rate runs extremely high, specifically in flight, in extreme cold weather and during breeding season.

Birds are skilled at determining which food items are the most efficient and the best nutritional choice.  Some birds will test the seed’s weight and taste with their beak before making their choice – one reason you find birdseed on the ground instead of in the bird feeder. Generally, low-quality food is discarded.  Birds also look for seeds that are easily digested and don’t take a lot of work to eat.  Because of the amount of food a bird needs to consume (remember, food is fuel/energy), its choices are foods that are fast and easy to manage.

Birds and their Food Preferences

Birds and their Food Preferences

  • Nyjer (thistle seed) attracts American gold and lesser gold finches and pine siskins. Nyjer is considered gourmet for a bird.
  • Millet (white-proso) will attract towhees, sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, quail and mourning doves. This seed is best scattered on the ground because perch feeding birds won’t eat it.
  • Milo or Sorghum is birdseed for ground feeding. It attracts Curve-billed Thrashers, Gambel’s Quails, towhees, sparrows and juncos. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology seed preference tests, these birds prefer milo to sunflower. In another study, they found that House Sparrows did not like Milo, but cowbirds did.
  • Black oil sunflower seeds attract the most perching birds including Purple finches, Oat titmice, Scrub jays, Blackheaded grosbeaks and more.
  • Safflower, an elongated white seed, can help birders attract cardinals found mainly in the eastern United States, and chickadees whose home is generally along the coast or in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • Suet is a popular choice among nuthatches and woodpeckers.
  • Mealworm (live) acts like a magnet for bluebirds!
  • Fruit such as oranges, grapes, apples and berries are a perfect menu item for the tanager and orioles. Placing a small dish of jelly in your feeding area will almost definitely attract your bird friends; however, be cautious about putting fruits and jellies out in warmer weather.  This delicacy is best used in cold winter weather.
  • Baked, or dried, melon seeds and pumpkin seeds are a popular choice for birds; however, smaller species will be grateful for crushed seeds for easier digestion.

Designing the Perfect Bird Food for your Backyard Tree

Build A Bird Seed Ornament

  • 1 package of plain gelatin
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups mixture of  black sunflower, millet & thistle seeds
  • 3 T. rice syrup
  • A dab of butter
  • Star-shaped cookie cutter or small Bundt pan for wreath shape

Dissolve gelatin in 1/2 cup warm water; whisk rice syrup and flour to create a paste; add bird seed and stir well.  Grease the inside of the star-shaped cookie cutter with a dab of butter (Bundt pan, or other mold), place on cookie sheet and press seed mixture with a spoon to fill the shape. Use a pointed object to make a hole in the star to make room for stringing a piece of rope or ribbon. In 24 hours, flip onto a plate or wax paper and let dry for another 24-48 hours. Birds will flock to your groovy stars!

Make a Sunflower Butter Pinecone Feeder

Make a Sunflower Butter Pinecone OrnamentBirds love sunflower butter!  A great choice for winter months, birds love homemade pinecone feeders. Use a spoon or butter knife to apply sunflower butter into the crevices of a pinecone and roll the cone in a mixture of black sunflower, millet and thistle seeds. Then, hang on a tree or set the cone in a feeding dish.

For the Birds” Groovy Lab in a Box

You and your STEMists can learn more bird science with the educational activities found in “For the Birds” groovy box—all about birds in your local area, their drinking and feeding habits, and what types of bird feeder structures best suit them. Join Now! and challenge your STEMists to a monthly Groovy Lab in a Box, full of everything a child needs to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investigations. Our monthly box activates thinking, questioning, inquiring and original creation as we guide children through scientific inquiry and engineering design process.

4 Groovy Activities to Teach about Vibration and Sound Energy

Most STEMists learn to appreciate vibrations as an infant when they hear their first lullaby.  And, many learn to love singing children’s songs with the accompaniment of maracas, drums and triangles in preschool and elementary school. But, do STEMists completely understand the energy of sound vibration— how we are able to hear and feel sound?
4 Groovy Activities to Teach about Vibration and Sound Energy
Sound is more than noise; it is energy.  A groovy way to teach your STEMists about sound is by listening and seeing sound waves through simple activities that demonstrate the three characteristics of sound: pitch, volume and frequency.

Here are four activities you can do with your STEMists to learn about the energy of sound vibration, and how it can be seen and heard.

Humming a Tune

Have your STEMists place their fingers on their throat and hum their favorite song. Or, ask your STEMists to hum a tune through a kazoo. Ask them to discuss what they feel. Then explain they are feeling the vibrations of their vocal chords, which vibrate to make sound. The vibrations you feel when you hum are how we make and hear sound.

Fun with a Tuning Fork

Fun with a Tuning Fork

You will need a tuning fork (available from any musical instrument store) and ping pong ball. Strike a tuning fork and place one of its tines against ping pong ball. Discuss sound waves and what happened to the ping pong ball. Why did it move? Talk with your STEMists about the changes in vibration in relation to the changes in sound.

Sounding Off with a Spatula

All you need for this activity is a metal spatula.  Lay the spatula on a table or student’s desk with its handle extended over the side.  Ask your STEMists to pull the handle down. Then, discuss what happens when they let it go.  Do they see or hear anything?  Talk about the characteristics of sound, and the similarity between the vibrations of the spatula and the vibrations of your vocal chords when you talk.

Boom Box

This activity requires a boom box, paper plate, small pieces of paper and balloons.  Blow up a balloon and hold it in front of a boom box speaker.  Then, turn up the volume and observe.  Next, place a paper plate that holds small pieces of paper on top and place it on top of the boom box.  Discuss sound energy and what happens when you turn up the volume.

Note: Remind students that loud noises can damage their ears, especially when playing loud music – whether it’s through a boom box or earphones from your iPhone!

Below are some definitions for STEMists to learn as they go through the above sound energy activities:

  • Vibration – The back and forth movement of an object; Sound is made by vibrations that are usually too fast to see.
  • Sound Energy – Audible energy that is released when playing music, talking or a clap of thunder. As explained by Exploresound.org, “Sound is produced when an object vibrates. Near the vibrating surface, air follows that surface and the air molecules begin to vibrate, or oscillate. These oscillations spread from one molecule to the next, and a sound wave moves outward from the vibrating surface.”
  • Sound Wave – A longitudinal pressure wave of audible or inaudible sound.
  • Wave – A disturbance that travels through a medium, such as air or water.

Three Properties of Sound:

  1. Volume – how loud a sound is, a measure of amplitude
  2. Pitch – how high or low a sound is in relation to wavelength and frequency
  3. Frequency– how fast a sound wave is moving (high frequency = short wavelength = high pitch)

Let your STEMists join in the fun of more learning about sound and vibrations with this month’s music-themedGood Vibrations” Groovy Lab in a Box.  Order yours today!

Homeschooling is Groovier with Groovy Lab in a Box


Homeschooling has its challenges from developing curriculum to finding educational activities that will keep your students engaged. 
Monthly themed Groovy Lab in a Box is the ideal complement to your curricula, traditional textbooks and supplementary workbooks. Collaboration is key to learning and each groovy box can fit the needs of up to five STEMists – STEM Team titles are outlined in the extended learning portal Beyond…in a Box!

Homeschooling is Groovier with Groovy Lab in a Box

Groovy Lab in a Box will quickly turn your homeschoolers into true STEMists through hands-on experiments that teach science, technology, engineering, and math.

What is a STEMist?

STEM•ist /stĕmʹĭst/ n. Expert in applying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Explorer, creator, inventor…STEMist!

Groovy Lab in a Box lab notebook

Groovy Lab in a Box fosters imaginative innovation and encourages problem solving through project-based learning. Each month’s box has a theme, such as Lunar Launch, Fly with Me, What’s the Matter, and Greenhouses.

Our Groovy Lab Notebook

Your homeschoolers will be delighted when they open their Groovy Lab in a Box to find all the supplies necessary to complete the investigations and engineering design challenge outlined in a retro-style custom, subject-specific lab notebook.  Full Steam Ahead homeschool educator Kristi Smith wrote in her blog titled, What I Learned About my Son,

While he was opening it, my son was beaming, exclaiming, ‘This is better than Christmas!’ (Note to self: Return dirt bike!) He wanted SO badly to just start tinkering, and I wanted SO badly for him to listen as I read through the included Lab Notebook, absorbing all the information on electricity, neutrons, circuits, etc.”

The custom Lab Notebook is where your STEMists will find easy-to-follow directions for each investigation, take notes, draw each project’s design plans and record their findings. “The lab notebook was set up to make it easy to record what we thought would happen, our actual results and what we thought of them.  My oldest loves building and doing experiments, but usually hates the writing/data portion. The question prompts and simple charts to record info made it more fun,” said Cheryl, the creator of Sew Can Do, and a self-taught crafter, designer and homeschooling mom of 3.

Cheryl recently tried our “Here Comes The Sun” solar energy-themed box. “It gave us everything we needed for 4 experiments AND a bonus item (solar paper) to use as we wished. I sometimes found projects like this kind of confusing back when I was a kid, but the lab notebook gave really clear, step-by-step instructions,” says Cheryl. “It was also nice to see the notebook reminding kids that failed results aren’t something negative, but rather an opportunity to learn more and redesign an even better solution.”

The Engineering Design Process for Project-Based Learning

Groovy Lab in a Box presents an engineering design challenge that takes great effort and requires STEMists to first identify the problem through investigative questioning, deduction and reasoning.  Unlike the investigations, the Lab Notebook does not have instructions on how to complete the Engineering Design Challenge, making it the most challenging to perform It’s true project-based learning where your homeschoolers will have to:

Engineering Design Process

  • Ask a question
  • Investigate to solve the problem
  • Brainstorm a possible solution
  • Plan and then build their solution
  • Experiment and run tests to see if the solution works
  • Redesign to improve the original solution (because almost no one designs it perfectly the first time!)

Even more benefits for homeschoolers

STEMists also have special access to our online learning portal, “Beyond…in a Box”.  Interactive activities, videos and other information are available on the portal to help homeschoolers learn about that month’s topic in addition to providing help to complete the engineering design challenge.

Cheryl says, “What I thought was most fantastic was that one box could be used just as easily with a single child or as a team – we tried it both ways.  Having several kids, at different levels, is sometimes a challenge for us in homeschooling, but Groovy Lab in a Box made it a lot easier.”

So, whether you are homeschooling one child or ten, Groovy Lab in a Box has you covered with our monthly subscription or our single box orders.  Visit Groovy Lab in a Box today to bring unique STEM-related, project-based learning to your homeschoolers.

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

What do you do with your Groovy Lab in a Box once your STEMists have completed the monthly themed activity?  Teach your STEMists about the importance of recycling and reusing materials by finding new ways to use the Groovy box.

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

Below are 12 fun and groovy ways to repurpose your cool retro-style Groovy Lab in a Box

1. Make a Diorama.  Use your box as a creative STEMist summer project by making a diorama using the theme, “My Summer Vacation.” Or, save your box for an upcoming school diorama project.

2. Use as a Shoebox.  Our Groovy Lab in a Box packaging is an excellent way to keep your STEMists’ shoes in tip-top shape and an awesome way to organize your closet!

3. Make Wall Shelves. Paint or decorate our packaging to create unique and inexpensive wall shelving that you can use to store light weight knick knacks such as a small picture frame or flower vase.

4. Create a Memory Box.  Cover the box with decorative scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, or masking tape.  Then, when your STEMists experience something cool or unusual, ask them to write that event on a piece of paper.  The STEMist should then fold the paper and place it in the box.  At the end of the month, at the end of the year, or anytime your STEMists are in need of cheering up, recommend they pull out their memory box to read some of their favorite memories.

5. Make a Sailboat. Cut off the front flap of your groovy box, and then cut into thirds.  Take one of the third pieces and fold into the shape of a number 2. Tape the bottom edges of the 2 shape together, and then crinkle to make a C shape. Place a piece of tape down the back to hold. Place your groovy sailboat and let the wind blow.  Groovy Sailboat VIDEO: Groovy Sail Boat.  

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

 6. Gift Box.   Our boxes are great for packaging a gift.  Just place your gift in the box, and wrap it with wrapping paper or make it more fun and colorful with the Sunday comic strip section.

7. Covered Map Box.  Use an old map to cover the Groovy box to use as storage for your folded maps, or to store office supplies and other items.  This project is great for an office and a fun way to display a practical-use storage box.

8. Charging Station.  Cut several holes large enough to pull a charger cord through to connect with your mobile devices. Wrap the box with decorative paper or fabric for a more sophisticated look.

9. Photo Storage.  Decorate to your liking and use the box for storing and organizing your photo prints. Remember to label the box for easy identification!

10. Ribbon Dispenser.  Similar to the charging station (above), a ribbon dispenser is ideal for crafters or holiday gift wrapping.  Cut one or two holes, depending on the size of ribbon spools you have, on each short side of the box.  Starting outside of the box, insert the wooden skewers through the ribbon spools inside the box.  Then, cut holes and use grommets for decoration; thread your ribbons through the grommets for easy ribbon measuring and cutting.  Again, decorate the box to fit your room decor.

11. Sock Drawer Organizer. Use a straight-edge blade to cut the top off the Groovy box.  Then cut pieces to use as dividers inside the remaining box piece.  Insert the dividers and place pairs of socks in the box for easy access!  Save one divider space to add a favorite sachet or dryer sheet to keep your clothing freshly scented.

12. Store your Groovy Lab Notebook. Finally, for prosperity— keep one Groovy box to store all of your Groovy Lab in a Box custom designed lab notebooks that has all your STEMists’ engineering design challenges!

To encourage your STEMists’ engineering minds, become a Groovy Lab in a Box subscriber and receive your Groovy box that you can use to complete all the DIY projects mentioned above!

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