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Freeman Physics Builds Towers for Seismic Competition


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5821f015adeea 2016 Physics Class with parts left after competition.
Working to make sure everything is precise!
Making notches to fit for extra strength and stability.
Taking the plans from paper to construct each floor.
Showing off tower 2. This tower had the least amount of building deductions and earned 2nd place overall. Eventually crashed to the ground in the 3rd earthquake simulation.
Showing off tower 1. This tower withstood the 3 different earthquake simulations before failure near the 10th floor.
2016 Physics Class with parts left after competition.

The Physics class at Freeman High School started a new project this year.  The goal was to build a tower structure to withstand seismic waves created by an earthquake.  The idea was proposed by the University of Nebraska Omaha chapter of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI).  There are several groups around the world that compete in this type of competition, but the idea was proposed to high schools across the state to see which team could build the best tower to withstand seismic waves.  

Seismic waves are created when Earth's plates move and slide around in a concept called "plate tectonics".  When the plates move, they release a great amount of force and pressure which radiates outward in the form of energy waves.  These waves make the rock and dirt move briefly and shake anything held in place on the surface of the Earth such as buildings.

Each tower was constructed under a strict set of rules but the following are a few basic dimensions:

--Each tower was to be created by 1/4" balsa wood and be no wider than 15" x 15".  

--The tower would be built to contain 15-20 floors with each floor being exactly 2" from floor to floor.  

--Types of glue was not limited, but you could lose points for excess glue spread across the support pieces.

--Each tower would create space to hold dead load on the 5th, 10th, and 15th floors.  Dead load is weighted plates bolted onto the tower to expose and is used to expose weak points in the tower construction.

Rules and advice were given by the EERI chapter from UNO and more information can be found at https://www.eeri.org/

Two teams were created in class and students began to research ideas from examples around the globe.  Students discussed various ways engineers build towers to withstand earthquake's damaging waves.  After much discussion and careful reading of rules, the students began to sketch their tower design.  The towers needed to be built with very precise measurement and construction. The project took the students over a month to complete and required a few extra hours to finish during the last few days.  In the end, time ran out and competition day arrived.

The seismic competition took place on Saturday, November 5th at the Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha, NE.  The towers were judged by officials to see if any construction errors occurred and the deductions were tabulated.  Each tower would then undergo a series of earthquake simulations.  Scientists have recorded seismic waves throughout history around the world and are able to recreate those waves on a computer simulator and shake table.  Each tower preformed well for each earthquake and only broke apart when the seismic waves were increased and exceeded the largest earthquakes recorded on Earth.  In the end, Tower 2 was awarded second place overall largely due to have the least number of construction errors.

During competition day, students in attendance were able to view two towers that stood 29 floors high and competed at world competitions. A video of one tower was shown when it competed in 2014 and received 4th place at the world competition. There was time for students to ask questions and receive feedback from the panel of judges to hear both the good and bad aspects of each tower.  Finally, a professor gave a short informational explanation of structural engineering and how they blend engineering and architecture in buildings around the world.

Tower 1 Video Link

Tower 2 Video Link

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