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Factors that Affect the Transfer of Force through Saturated Soil

Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Low ($20 - $50)


Earthquake damage can be intensified in areas that are subject to soil liquefaction. For example, in these areas, soil movement may cause foundations to collapse, while structures in nearby areas built on more stable soil or bedrock may escape relatively unscathed. This project uses readily available materials to determine whether soil additives can reduce the tendency to soil liquefaction.


The objective of this project is to determine what effect additives have on the transfer of force through saturated soil. The reason I performed this investigation was to try to establish if the effects of liquefaction can be prevented or lessened by adding elements to the soil.


Marie E. Jenkins

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Science Buddies Staff. "Factors that Affect the Transfer of Force through Saturated Soil" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 20 June 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Geo_p002.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, June 20). Factors that Affect the Transfer of Force through Saturated Soil. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Geo_p002.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-06-20


In locations with high earthquake potential, the susceptibility of the existing soil to liquefaction can pose problems for building. Is it possible to add elements to the soil to help minimize the effects of liquefaction on sandy soils?

Terms and Concepts

In order to properly conduct this experiment, you will need to understand soil liquefaction. What conditions need to be present for soil liquefaction to occur? What causes soil liquefaction? What methods are currently being used to mitigate liquefaction hazards?

You should also develop a good understanding of soil types from an engineering perspective, i.e. what makes for a "solid" soil vs. a less stable soil given the potential force of an earthquake. How will your "additives" impact the structure of the soil?


The Soil Liquefaction Web Site from the University of Washington offers a great introduction to liquefaction: http://www.ce.washington.edu/~liquefaction/html/main.html

The US Geological Survey web site also has some general information on earthquakes and liquefaction that is written specifically for students grades 7-12: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/

In 1998 NASA conducted a study on the Mechanics of Granular Materials. They actually took columns of sand and sent them into space so they could further investigate the behaviors of granular materials without the stresses of gravity. The structure of the experiment is similar to the experiment that is being tested here, and offers some good general information and findings on the structure of granular materials and liquefaction. http://science.nasa.gov/newhome/headlines/msad06jan98_1.htm

Materials and Equipment

  • Section of PVC pipe
  • Drill
  • Sandy soil
  • Experimental Fillers: bark, dried leaves, polymers, and Styrofoam popcorn
  • Water
  • Dowels
  • Weights
  • Mosquito netting or cheesecloth
  • Duct tape
  • Force-measuring device (such as a spring-scale)
  • Shake table (optional)

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Experimental Procedure

  1. Drill four holes in the PVC pipe. The holes should be equally spaced vertically and should be sized to fit the dowels that you will be using in the experiment.
  2. Cover the bottom of the pipe with the mosquito netting or cheesecloth, which will allow water to seep in while keeping the soil n the pipe.
  3. Fill the pipe with soil.
  4. Saturate the soil with water by placing the bottom of the pipe in a container filled with water and letting the water seep into the pipe from the bottom. You will probably need to leave the pipe in the water overnight to give it time to fully saturate. Make sure you use the same amount of water each time.
  5. Once the soil is saturated, seal the bottom of the pipe with duct tape to keep the soil and water from seeping out.
  6. Quickly insert the four dowels into the holes.
  7. Place weights on the soil at the top of the pipe.
  8. Wait at least one hour for the soil to settle. To assist the settling of the soil, tap the pipe lightly two to three times.
  9. Drop the pipe three times on a hard surface from a height of approximately two inches to simulate an earthquake. Alternatively, if you have access to a shake table, this could also be used to simulate the effects of an earthquake. If using a shake table, you will need to make sure that the pipe remains vertical while on the shake table.
  10. Pull out the dowels using a force-measuring device to determine the level of contact forces in the soil.
  11. Repeat steps 3-10 combining the additives (bark, dried leaves, polymers, and Styrofoam popcorn) one at a time to the soil to test the ability of each of the additives to reduce the effects of liquefaction.

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