Earthquake Science: Soil Liquefaction

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This activity demonstrates liquefaction, the process by which some soils lose their solidity during an earthquake. Learners will use a loaf pan, sand, water and a brick to model what happens to buildings built on sandy soil during a powerful earthquake. Many buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area are built on landfill, sand, or mud that can liquefy, and as a result much of the damage in California's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was caused by liquefaction.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Metal or heavy plastic pan—full-sized loaf pans work fine
  • Sand
  • Water
  • A smooth brick
  • A rubber mallet


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Processes
      • Earthquakes
  • Physical Sciences
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Sources:

  • The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
  • Jim Clark Endowment for Internet Education