Introduction: Microsoft Hacking STEM: Tuned Mass Damper

In the modern classroom, it's extremely important to integrate science, engineering, and technology skills with our curriculum. We have partnered with the California Academy of Sciences and Public Media for Northern California (KQED) for this activity. In this lesson, core earth science ideas will be combined with technical skills to collect and visualize earthquake data, which replicates the information that scientists use to make informed decisions about human safety. Students model how engineers incorporate tuned mass dampers in skyscraper design to make them resistant to earthquake damage.

*Please note that this activity will require adult supervision

Build and Learn

In this lesson, you will learn how engineers use technology in building designs to make them resistant to earthquake damage. You will construct a model skyscraper with a tuned mass damper, which is similar to the one in the Taipei 101 Tower in Taipei, Taiwan. Participants use materials such as dowels, paper plates, plywood, bolts, and washers.

Connect Your Tools

To digitally analyze the earthquake, an Arduino and accelerometer will be added to study the impact, both with and without the tuned mass damper.

Visualize the Data

Using the custom Excel workbook, you will be able to visualize and analyze live data from this instrument. It visualizes pendulum movement and building sway, while allowing for observation and recording of live data. Recording data can be saved into the trial data section for comparison and analysis.

A downloadable version of these instructions can be found below or at this link.


Supplies can be found in step one

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies


  • 2 paper plates (22 cm diameter)
  • 1 drinking straws
  • 5 dowels (4.75 mm diameter 92 cm long)
  • 1 1/4" - 20 thread size bolt and wingnut
  • 1 rubber grommet, 4 mm diameter
  • 23 metal washers 2 screws, 4 cm long
  • 1 insulated ring terminal
  • 1 square of plywood, 30 cm x 30 cm x 1.25 cm
  • 1 scrap of cardboard at least 20 cm x 30 cm
  • 4 thumb tacks 1 C-clamp 1 TMD pattern
  • Either
    • 1 Arduino Uno microcontroller
    • 1 Adafruit LIS3DH Triple-Axis Accelerometer
    • 1 USB cable type A to type B
    • 1 mini Breadboard
    • 1 8-pin header
    • 4 jumper wires
  • Or
    • 1 micro:bit
    • 1 clothespin
    • 1 Micro USB cable (6 ft/2 meters long)


  • Scissors Masking tape
  • Hot glue gun + glue sticks Drill (4.75 mm bit)
  • Marker & pencil
  • Utility knife
  • Meter stick

Safety Guidelines:

Hot Melt Tool:

  • Place it on a level surface to avoid tipping over
  • Place the electrical cable out of the way to avoid a tripping hazard
  • Do not touch the tip of the tool or the hot glue coming out of it.

Eye Protection:

  • Please wear appropriate eye protection while doing any engineering design or field projects

Cutting Tools

  • Keep the sharp edge away from your body
  • Always cover the blade with a plastic cap when not in use
  • When cutting small pieces, do not place fingers very closed to the blades


  • Follow the instructions included with the drill
  • Keep your fingers away from the drill bit, it has sharp edges
  • Hold the drill and the piece you are drilling firmly to prevent the piece from spinning and possibly hitting you

Making for a group or need help finding materials? View the shopping list to calculate quantities and links to materials at:

Step 2: Construct Building Structure

  1. Print and cut out the template showing the "dowel location guides" and "pendulum attachment slot guide."
  2. Tape down the template to the bottom of a plate so that it doesn't move.
  3. Carefully cut a slit through both the template and plate along the Slot Guide (the dotted line). An exact-o knife is recommended for this cut
  4. Place a second plate underneath the first, taping them together Repeat step 3 to cut through the second plate
  5. Make an X on the rim of the plate where each of the Dowel Location Guides end (there should be four in total)
  6. Draw a diagonal line from corner to corner of the wood base to make an X Line up the Dowel Location Guides on the base.
  7. Use thumbtacks to temporarily hold the plate in place
  8. Use a piece of tape on the drill bit to use as a depth guide, to prevent yourself from drilling all the way through the plywood Drill through each X on the plate rim.

Step 3: Attach Straws to the Damper Top

  1. Cut a regular sized drinking straw into four 6 cm pieces. The straw pieces will act as holders for the dowels.
  2. Make a 2 cm cut into one end of a straw piece
  3. Make three more 2 cm cuts on the same end to form four equally petals.
  4. Twist the straw into the whole in the top plate rim so that the petals stick out of the top side of the plate. Securely tape down the open petals. Make sure the opening of the straw isn't blocked by tape.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 three more times for each of the remaining straws. Turn the plate over.
  6. Mark a straw 2.5 cm up from the plate. Then fold the straw down on that line. Wrap tape around the closed fold so that you close off one end of the straw. Repeat for the other three straws

Step 4: Attach Pendulum Holder to Damper Top

  1. Cut your cardboard into three squares, each about 5 cm x 5 cm.
  2. Turn the plate over so the top side faces up and hot glue a piece of cardboard over the slot you made earlier.
  3. Glue a second piece at a wide angle, with one edge touching the edge of the middle piece Glue a third piece at the same angle, but touching the other edge of the middle piece. Glue the seams between the panel. The three panels of cardboard should now be in an "S" formation
  4. Glue a washer in the center of the middle panel, close to the edge that isn't attached to the plate. Glue a second washer on the opposite side of the middle cardboard in the same location as the first washer.
  5. Clear the inside of the hole of the washer of paper and glue so there is through hole at the center of both washers.

Step 5: Make the Pendulum

  1. Score a dowel with your scissors at 37 inches, and snap it at that point
  2. Hot glue an insulated ring terminal to the end of the 37 inch dowel
  3. Slide 20 washers onto the dowel
  4. Secure the rubber grommet on the other end of the dowel to keep the washers on the pendulum
  5. Using a bolt, washer, and wing nut, connect the pendulum to the cardboard part of the base. Keep it loose enough for the pendulum to swing.

Step 6: Build the Damper Base

  1. Drill two screws into the base 11 cm in from side (one from the left, one from the right), 2 cm in from the front of the base.
  2. Place the dowels into the holes you drilled in the base earlier
  3. Slip the top of the dowels into the straws in the paper plate.
  4. Wrap tape around the ends if needed for a snug fit.
  5. Clamp down a large book and rubber band to the table.
  6. Place the TMD next to the book and attach the rubber band to the two screws
  7. Tape the meter stick on the side of the damper base.
  8. Mark 10 cm and 20 cm lengths from the front of the damper

Step 7: Upload Arduino Code

  1. Install the Arduino IDE from the Technical Requirement link on the lesson page, or through the Microsoft Store. Follow prompts to complete installation
  2. Go to and download the flash code named ArduinoUNO_TMD.hex. Open your downloaded file to launch the Arduino App
  3. In the Arduino app, select: Tools > Port> COM # (Arduino/Genuino Uno)
  4. Select Tools > Board: Arduino/Genuino Uno
  5. Click the circular right arrow button to upload

Step 8: Connect Your Arduino

  1. Attach your accelerometer into the mini breadboard with the two circular rings at the top of the accelerometer facing outward.
  2. Attach your other two analog wires as shown on the wiring diagram.
  3. Attach your ground wire from the GND pin on the Arduino to the hole on the breadboard that lines up with the GND pin on the accelerometer. Alternatively, attach your power wire from the 5V pin on the Arduino to the hole on the breadboard that lines up with the VIN pin on the accelerometer
  4. Using tape or hot glue, attach your accelerometer to your Arduino so that it is facing away from the USB cord input on the Arduino
  5. Tape your Arduino Uno to the plate so it lines up with the slit you made previously on the paper plate and with the cardboard pendulum support below the plate. Place your plate onto the dowels with your accelerometer facing forward.

Step 9: Connect Your Micro:bit

  1. Glue your clothespin on the center of the TMD topper so it is parallel with the slit you made previously
  2. With your finger, open the jaws of the clothespin and place your micro:bit into the clothespin opening
  3. Plug your micro USB into your micro:bit
  4. Place your TMD topper onto your wooden dowels

Step 10: Open Excel and Enable Data Streamer

1. Open Excel 0365
2. Click on File and choose Options located at the bottom left corner of the screen
3. Choose Add-ins in the dialog that opens
4. From the Manage menu at the bottom of the dialog that opens, choose Com Add-ins and click Go
5. Check the box for Microsoft Data Streamer in the dialog that opens and click OK
6. You should see a new Data Streamer tab in Excel's menu ribbon

Step 11: Visualize Your Data

1.To run the Data Streamer add-in, make sure you meet these technical requirements:
a PC running Windows 10 and Excel O365 Desktop, and the enabled Data Streamer add-in (See instructions on previous page). Customized Excel Workbooks are available at
2. Plug the arduino or micro:bit microcontroller into your computer's USB port
3. Click the Data Streamer tab on the Excel ribbon
4. Click 'Connect a device' to connect Excel to the microcontroller
5. Finally, click 'Start Data' to begin streaming data into Excel

Step 12: Excel Workbook Basics

  1. Go to to download the Excel Workbook
  2. Under the "Run Trials" tab you can view an animation of Tapei 101 swaying based on your tuned mass damper
  3. Under the "Live Data" tab you can view the current readings coming from your device
  4. Under the "USGS 10-Year WW Earthquake Data" tab you can visualize real earthquake data