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written by Gregory DiLisi and Richard Rarick
This is an article that describes how to construct a tsunami tank for modeling the motion of a tsunami wave in introductory physics classrooms.  Directions are given for building the 6-foot long trough with clear acrylic sheets as sides.  The article gives explicit instructions on how to create an impulsive disturbance in the tank to simulate an earthquake that will, in turn, generate a tsunami-like wave.  The authors explain how to develop classroom activities around the tsunami tank to leverage student interest in the subject and capture the essential physics of tsunamis.

This item is part of a larger collection of articles by the same author(s).
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Oscillations & Waves
- Wave Motion
= Transfer of Energy in Waves
- High School
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Model
- Reference Material
= Article
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- Laboratory
- New teachers
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© 2006 Gregory DiLisi
lab, magazine article, ripple tank, shallow-water waves, tsunami, water waves, waves
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created March 26, 2009 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 13, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
November 30, 2008

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M4. Vibrations in materials set up wavelike disturbances that spread away from the source. Sound and earthquake waves are examples. These and other waves move at different speeds in different materials.
  • 6-8: 4F/M7. Wave behavior can be described in terms of how fast the disturbance spreads, and in terms of the distance between successive peaks of the disturbance (the wavelength).
  • 9-12: 4F/H6ab. Waves can superpose on one another, bend around corners, reflect off surfaces, be absorbed by materials they enter, and change direction when entering a new material. All these effects vary with wavelength.
  • 9-12: 4F/H6c. The energy of waves (like any form of energy) can be changed into other forms of energy.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M1. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly. They are also used for processes that are too vast, too complex, or too dangerous to study.
  • 9-12: 11B/H5. The behavior of a physical model cannot ever be expected to represent the full-scale phenomenon with complete accuracy, not even in the limited set of characteristics being studied. The inappropriateness of a model may be related to differences between the model and what is being modeled.
11D. Scale
  • 6-8: 11D/M3. Natural phenomena often involve sizes, durations, and speeds that are extremely small or extremely large. These phenomena may be difficult to appreciate because they involve magnitudes far outside human experience.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Wave Energy
Unit Title: Types of Mechanical Waves

A great way to spark student interest in wave motion is through the study of tsunamis.  This magazine article, which appeared in The Physics Teacher in 2006, provides a step-by-step blueprint for constructing your own low-cost tsunami tank for experimenting in the classroom.  Related classroom activities capture the essential physics of tsunamis.  Try teaming these activities with the interactive computer simulation below, "Michigan State Tsunami Simulator".

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AIP Format
G. DiLisi and R. Rarick, (2006), WWW Document, (http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2396776).
G. DiLisi and R. Rarick, Modeling the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for Introductory Physics Students, (2006), <http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2396776>.
APA Format
DiLisi, G., & Rarick, R. (2008, November 30). Modeling the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for Introductory Physics Students. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2396776
Chicago Format
DiLisi, Gregory, and Richard Rarick. Modeling the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for Introductory Physics Students. November 30, 2008. http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2396776 (accessed 19 January 2017).
MLA Format
DiLisi, Gregory, and Richard Rarick. Modeling the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for Introductory Physics Students. 2006. 30 Nov. 2008. 19 Jan. 2017 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2396776>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "Gregory DiLisi and Richard Rarick", Title = {Modeling the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for Introductory Physics Students}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {19 January 2017}, Month = {November 30, 2008}, Year = {2006} }
Refer Export Format

%A Gregory DiLisi
%A Richard Rarick
%T Modeling the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for Introductory Physics Students
%D November 30, 2008
%U http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2396776
%O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%A DiLisi, Gregory
%A Rarick, Richard
%D November 30, 2008
%T Modeling the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for Introductory Physics Students
%V 2017
%N 19 January 2017
%8 November 30, 2008
%9 application/pdf
%U http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2396776

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Modeling the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami for Introductory Physics Students:

Supplements Michigan State Applet Collection: Tsunami Simulator

This is a simple interactive simulation that depicts how a tsunami gains amplitude from a small initial pulse to become one of earth's most destructive forces upon contact with a coastline.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is a Teaching Guide For Physics Classroom: What is a Wave?

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