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January 10, 2020 Friday 02:08:36 PM IST

IISc Scientists Use Soft Materials to Study Earth Quake Impact in Laboratory

Photo by Angelo Giordana for

A new study done by researchers at Indian Institute of Science ahs revealed that study of stress impact on soft materials helps in understanding how the Earth's crust is restructured during earth quakes. The study was done on thin sheets of soft materials- a tightly packed gel of soap-like molecules and a glass made from clay nanoparticles. They were sheared between two steel plates. When force was continuously applied by the plate on the material, the internal reorganization of the material generated burst-like patterns over time that resembled seismograph data generated by earthquakes. Earthquakes occur when there is friction between tectonic plates causing a sudden burst of energy that causes severe damage to the environment and human lives. Earth quake prediction is still a difficult job for scientists nor it is easy to know how strong it will be in the event of such an occurrence. In lab settings, force was applied on rocks or ceramic materials to learn how it was deformed on stress. In this process, it is difficult to study the changes that happen inside before they split open. In the current study, the researchers used soft materials instead and observed how they reacted under stress. Using an optical microscope and camera, they were able to look closely at how the inside of the material changed over time.
They found that the rate at which the material reorganized itself showed burst-like patterns persisting over thousands of seconds, resembling seismic foreshocks and aftershocks. These events usually happen over hundreds of kilometres during earthquakes.