These Japanese Students Compete In Making Earthquake-Resistant Toothpick Towers

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A Japanese engineering university in Kumamoto has always conducted competitions among its students to build toothpick towers that can withstand a simulated earthquake.

The university is situated in the Circum-Pacific Mobile Belt, where there is constant seismic and volcanic activity. Japan is the world’s most earthquake-prone country. 18.5% of earthquakes in the world occur in the country. Therefore, the university builds this acumen in their students’ minds.

Since 2006, the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering, Sojo University has been holding the “Toothpick Tower Seismic Contest“ which is a unique competition that challenges teams of students to build earthquake-resistant towers using only toothpicks and wood glue.

Each team’s tower is placed on a 30cm board and metal weights are gradually added on top of it, while the platform they are placed on starts to shake, simulating an earthquake. As the horizontal vibrations increase, the towers start toppling under the pressure of the metallic weights. The last tower left standing is declared the winner.

Since 2011, Sojo University has also hosted contests between teams of high-school students, so they could develop an interest in the manufacturing and design of earthquake-resistant buildings.

The toothpick towers must be at least 50 centimeters tall and weigh less than 65 grams. They are glued to their respective wooden boards as not to slide off when the platform starts to vibrate.

The “Toothpick Tower Seismic Contest” is designed to stimulate creativity, teamwork, and interest in buildings that can tolerate earthquakes. In 2021, the competition was held on the 30th and 31st of October. Only one representative per team was allowed due to covid-19 restrictions.

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