Episode 60: Earthquake Machine

Air Date: August 30, 2006

Nikola Tesla invented a machine that when attached to an object and tuned to vibrate at a certain frequency, can cause an earthquake-like effect on the object it is attached to.


The MythBusters built several variations of Tesla’s pneumatic "earthquake machine" using modified jackhammers, as well as a specially designed computer-controlled electromagnetic linear actuator made by Grant. Small scale tests on metal bars were mixed, with the modified tools performing poorly while the more finely-tunable actuator produced significant vibrations in the bar. A scale test with a model of Tesla’s lab and miniature motor failed to produce any noticeable result. Finally, a large scale test using an actual bridge was attempted. The MythBusters attached the resonator to the side of a large truss bridge to see whether the entire bridge would be shaken. While the resonator did match the bridge’s frequency and produce a vibration noticeable 100 ft away, it was not strong enough to be considered an earthquake. With the combination of the lack of spectacular results and Tesla’s tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments at the time of publication, the MythBusters declared the myth busted.

Placing a lava lamp on a stove will cause an explosion that could kill a person.


All lava lamp tests produced violent reactions. The reactions differed depending on the lamp’s design. When lava lamps with safety caps exploded, they vented their contents out through the top of the lamp because of the safety cap popping off (as designed). A bottlecapped lava lamp being tested leaked due to a poor seal, and was helped to explode with a spray of cold water (through the thermal stress caused by the cooling effect of the water on the glass). The explosion lodged a piece of glass deep into a ballistics gel dummy planted near the lamp. A jumbo lava lamp exploded with enough force to pierce the dummy with numerous shards of glass. With the combination of the violent explosion, glass shrapnel in the dummy, explicit warning labels, and a recorded incident, the myth was deemed confirmed.

Placing a can of beans on a stove will cause an explosion that could kill a person.


The cans of beans tested exploded with force proportional to the size of the can. Larger cans explode more violently than smaller cans, especially since large cans do not have a weakened pop-open top, but the build team concluded that any can of beans on a stove is potentially lethal.

Placing a can of potted meat on a stove will cause an explosion that could kill a person.


Though the can of potted meat exploded rather violently, the explosion did not have enough force to be deemed lethal.

Placing a large glass jug of milk on a stove will cause an explosion that could kill a person.


The jar of milk exploded violently, though not with a large amount of force. The build team concluded that an exploding jar of milk can be lethal if a person happened to be standing over it.


  1. Ray says:

    Just a query. Could not the stroke be adjusted as the frequency is maintained in the Tesla Earthquake machine? Would this not then be like the person pushing somebody on the swing? Would not it cause an increase in the swaying?

  2. Wayne Augsburger says:

    The final (25 Hz) frequency that was arrived at was one of the secondary frequencies, not the primary frequency required. Keep dividing that frequency by 2 be patient tweek it a little and the bridge WILL come down!!! Tesla was a genius!

  3. PA Taco says:

    Some engineers use a machine that vibrates to test buildings designs against earthquakes. They should research actual information before resorting to their parlor tricks. The busters attempts are busted.

  4. Chris says:

    Do these machines actually destroy the buildings they are used on?

  5. Robert says:

    Particularly given that their “experiment” went to a bridge (and an old bridge at that, built before “Galloping Girdy” and the lessons learned there), I was surprised that the Mythbusters a) didn’t mention the Tacoma-Narrows bridge collapse which was presumably caused by nothing more than the wind setting up the correct resonance frequency and b) that given that bridge collapse took 4 months, they so quickly presumed that there was no chance that the “earthquake machine” would have collapsed the bridge after just one hour.

  6. Aaron says:

    What was the computer-controlled electromagnetic linear actuator used in this episode? I need to make a shaker chair to oscillate in 3 axis and i think 3 actuators will work well?

  7. Tim says:

    Also trying to figure-out what the make/model was of Grant’s Linear Servo Actuator … for a School Science Project :-)

  8. Alain says:

    Hello everyone. I was thinking about the tesla machine. They didn’t do much research like usual. I’ve been working in the cnc/machining for a very long time and I can say when the high speed machining hits that special spot with a well worn out cnc machine (1-2 tonne) they can go out of control. Crack cement moving up to a couple of feet. So the idea is not that fart fetch. They just didn’t make there research properly. I’ve seen a old lathe jump a whole feet up in the air lol with the same princaple.

  9. JohnnyE says:

    I remember a strange bottle of Coke I got from the store. It was a glass quart bottle but inside was the socket from a wrench, a bolt, and other assorted hardware. It was a curiosity I kept on my dresser. One time I showed it to a friend, set it back down on the dresser, and soon after we walked out of the room it exploded. My bedroom was covered with sharp glass shrapnel and the walls, floor, and ceiling were soaked in sticky Coke. I figure the Coke was reacting with the metal, creating a gas buildup and when I jostled it the reaction sped up to explosive pressure.

  10. Rogue2099 says:

    I do like the lava lamp experiment but was the lamp in the myth an original lamp or a modern retro remake. The original lamps were made from a screw top bottles were the new ones have the bottle top cap ?

  11. Hal Krohn says:

    This is in regard to Grant’s actuator mounted to the bridge. Though wind moves across bridges, it is the vortices of the wind moving over and through the bridge structure that generates rolling and/or vertical oscillations. Bridges are less likely to oscillate side to side. Unfortunately, Adam and Jamie mounted Grant’s actuator horizontally on a diagonal truss beam, many feet above the roadbed. Despite what I consider a poor choice of mounting direction and location, they seemed to be mildly impressed with their results. I would love to see Tesla vindicated in a do-over of this experiment: only this time mount the actuator vertically on a vertical structure at the center of the bridge span. I would also suggest starting the test without adding six pounds to the actuator. They may attain an impressive enough result without it.

  12. Adam says:

    The frequency is different for every structure, it has to be tuned.

    • David says:

      I agree… When jamie thought a reciprocating saw would be enough to set the frequency to an object’s resonance frequency, and of course that failed. I was amazed though when they used Grant’s electromagnetic motor, that could be tuned to very specific frequencies, was used on that really long piece of metal bar and it was shaking/oscillating in an amazing manner!

      Then they tried to use the same frequency when the bar was placed on a building I think… but i get the impression that the overall frequency of structure would be different than that of just the bar… so they didn’t find the resonance frequency of the whole structure to see if it was valid. SO I got the impression they were close, but without taking into consideration that resonance frequency can be different… seemed to have debunked something mistakenly.

  13. Chuck says:

    The man was a genius. Who worked a life time on his work and in a hour episode can call it busted.

  14. bobcat says:

    yes i concure a redo of the tesla myth is requisite. too much psuedo science in that episode for it to be a reliable test.

  15. Brad says:

    YES PLEASE DO MORE TESLA STUFF! Unless of course you are forbidden by government pressures you can’t talk about.

  16. Duckbutter says:

    This needs to be redone to the present-day mythbusters standards of excellence. Make the earthquake machine large enough to take the bridge down.

  17. seeker131 says:

    I thought Tesla tested his earthquake machine on a building. Not some bridge designed to withstand the vibrations and resonances caused by lifetime of heavy traffic. Is that building where they dropped the elevator still standing? Or maybe something bigger!

  18. Warren Radcliff says:

    Not busted, how much energy did it take to create more energy?
    What MythBusters has demonstrated was a potential energy source by mechanical means. If you use this principle with the right application to another mechanical means of reciprocation, then you might have a viable method of locomotion, similar to the Kundel magnetic motor.

  19. tesla says:

    Busted? I generally like Mythbusters but they get to full of themselves sometimes (“We couldn’t do it in a limited amount of time within our first few tries – therefore:impossible!”)

    See: Tacoma Narrows Bridge. So, obviously things can be destroyed by resonance. Also consider this: the bridge may have survived the test because your frequency was wrong. Yeah, obvious, but let me explain. Even if the initial frequency was correct, the act of vibrating the bridge could have VERY easily changed the natural resonance freq. of it. If you had the CONTINUALLY correct resonant freq. it would have been destroyed.

    Anyway, the point is mostly that Tesla >> Mythbusters. It takes a little more than this to “bust” anything he said or did.

    • notimpressed says:

      Very well put. I’m nowhere near the scientific levels that these Mythbuster guys claim to be on, but I picked up on their resonance mistake right off the bat. (Right along with many other experiments they make shoddy work of)

      Sometimes I wish you could call-in on the show and give them a verbal smack-in-the-head… before they try and publicly debunk a legendary genius in minutes.

  20. Tim says:

    The input energy was too small to overcome the damping of the structure. This does not mean Tesla was wrong. Just that they had no “spectacular results”

  21. lawyer says:

    Many people watched this episode of Mythbusters and many of them would say that Tesla’s claims are busted, a myth. “I watched it on TV, it’s impossible”. It would be nice to ask science about this question, not two funny guys who actually broadcasted a total nonsense of an experiment. Also, soldiers ARE instructed not to march over the bridge and it is well known why. That is also a myth according to Mythbusters. Someone should say to these guys to stop broadcasting lies no matter if they cannot produce desired effects in their experiments. It would be good for everyone who’s watching this nonsense.

  22. Greg says:


    Generally speaking: the “myth busters” should go back to school.
    A decent course in HSC physics will help them with basic weaknesses.

  23. Nate says:

    I don’t seem to be rude but the Mythbusters were idiots! There were so many factors that they didn’t take in so it was a completly inaccurate test. They didn’t care about any vibrations that might have been caused and didn’t tune the machine to match the vibrations. And if I’m remembering correctly Nikola Tesla did not test his machine on a bridge, he tested it on a building and constantly modified the frequency!

  24. Tony says:

    About Tesla oscillator, This myth has to be repeated coz they done it so sloppy and inaccurate according the real thing. But i think that no one can realy understand what Tesla was made even if we have his patent on the paper.

  25. William Carr says:

    I LIKE the MythBusters, but their Tesla conclusions were bogus.

    They didn’t replicate the circumstances. In fact, even with Adam’s enthusiasm for Tesla, it seemed to me he hadn’t actually read Tesla’s full account !

    Here’s what they missed. Tesla’s lab was on the top floor of a converted fire house.

    So, yes, it had that four story long brass pole the firemen used to slide down.

    And THAT is where Tesla mounted his oscillator.

    The brass pole acted as a giant spring. Every time the oscillator struck the pole, the pressure wave travelled down the pole, and most of the force reflected back up again.

    Match the frequency of the pole, (easy to calculate) and the pole will begin to flex, storing the energy, and gradually increasing the amplitude.

    Adam and Jamie made a LAME mockup of the firehouse out of some metal shelving.


    The bridge experiment was slightly less lame, but still, it didn’t replicate Tesla’s work.

    They bolted their actuator to a horizontal beam, on a bridge designed by engineers to absorb and dissipate vibration.

    That’s a far cry from bolting it to a vertical brass pole in an old building made of brick and mortar.

    And they could have done so much better. A steel flagpole, some concrete, and a couple hundred bricks would have been a lot closer to the original.

    That same six pound actuator bolted to the top of a flagpole would have demonstrated the principle.

    Tesla let his experiment run for hours. Energy slowly built up in the brass pole, which made for an excellent kinetic storage device.

    All that time, he tested different frequencies until he hit the resonant frequency of the firehouse.

    Windows across the street cracked. China rattled on shelves. And when Tesla realized the building was trembling, he smashed the actuator.

    I hope Adam and Jamie re-do this experiment more accurately. This kind of slap-dash approach is embarrassing.

  26. Kailassa says:

    The Myth Busters are not idiots. They are intelligent, entertaining and are doing a great job

    – as disinfo agents working for the government.

    Of course they are not going to be allowed to prove earthquakes can be caused by the government. Too many people as it is are realising that’s being done.

  27. Henry says:

    I find it interesting that on the bridge the Mythbusters said they felt a vibration like a large truck rolling by. That’s how I remember a mild earthquake felt in New Jersey some years ago. You can also find accounts of the “large truck” sensation from some people near the Haiti earthquake, if you Google for it.

    There have been several suggestions as to why the Mythbusters might have failed where Tesla succeeded. I have my own theories. But, I’d just as soon NOT teach those who can’t figure it out for themselves, how to destroy buildings and bridges.

  28. olx says:

    I think their “resonator” matched the bridges own frequency not its resonance frequency which is usually a bit different.
    Calculated Wr= SQRT(W^2 – 2B^2)
    where Wr is the resonance frequency, W is the bridges own frequency and B is the damping factor.I would imagine that a bridges damping factor is rather big and so the resonance frequency is quite different from the bridges own freq.
    And yes, the frequencies should be continuously monitored.
    Either the mythbusters got the physics WRONG or they dumbed it down for the viewers. Either way – not happy with the experiment

  29. Siecount says:

    I think the pervious comment from ‘Henry’ “I find it interesting that on the bridge the MythBusters they said they felt a vibration like a large truck rolling by” pretty much hits the nail on the head.

    To actually gauge any kind of result from a somewhat limited range of experimentation into Tesla’s earth quake machine (and in consideration of the result on the bridge after ‘just’ 60 minutes) indicates to me that contrary to the ‘Busted’ conclusion there is truth behind Tesla’s claims and with further refinement and experimentation I have no doubt in my mind that the results that Tesla himself described would be achieved.

    I enjoy MythBusters, however when you’re watching the program you have keep in mind that you are in fact watching an entertainment show and not a scientific documentary. I have allot of respect for what they manage to achieve with the limitations of their budget, resource and time scale and I wouldn’t be surprised if that one I saw a news paper headline saying that they’d managed to prove something really profound even if in the slap dash manor of the nature of the show. Government conspiracy with-holding of course!

    I personally couldn’t imagine how thrustrating it must be to have to draw a conclusion on a topic or experiment knowing that there is far more research that needs to be done but due to time, money constraints and pressure from my producer, I’ve had to make a conclusion that deep down I know could be wrong.

    I think that you’d have to have allot of strength of character to be able to do that and move on to the next myth. So where as there is always room for criticism in the method, I think that sometimes we pass judgment harshly when it should be offered with the appropriate respect.

  30. Bill Soester says:

    I’ve successfully performed this experiment in a high school physics lab. A steel rod, approx 3/8″ square and 2 feet long was welded to a heavy steel base, with the rod being vertical. A small linear oscillator was placed at the bottom section of the rod, mounted so that it bumped the rod at the limit of its travel. Total travel of the oscillator was very small, less than half inch. Using a strobe, an oscilliscope and variable speed control circuit, we managed to get the rod to assume an S curve shape. The strobe captured the amazing distortion taking place in this short rod. Carried out this experiment too many decades ago to recall specific diminsions and frequencies. But Telsa was right.

  31. Trevor says:

    I am not going to debate the science of the Tesla experiment, I am simply goin to present only the basis of my arguement. “Do over…”

    • Argh Science Pirate says:

      I don’t even.


      Out of all the moronic things people have said in this thread, Trevor takes the cake. Telling a scientist to “do it again” until it works out how you want is silly.

      On one hand we have Tesla, who invented a lot of stuff that doesn’t seem to work as well as he said, plus a few things that do (alternating current for example). This is indistinguishable from a scientist who also has some crackpot ideas with no basis to them. Just because Tesla did a couple things right, doesn’t mean everything he did was genius.

      On the other hand, we have people reproducing experiments of Tesla’s. One fundamental element of the scientific process is reproducability of experiment results. If nobody can do what Tesla claimed to do, in a given experiment, we must conclude that Tesla’s information about that experiment was bad. Whether he lied or just made a mistake is meaningless now. What matters is whether we can do it ourselves.

      Talk about pseudoscience. Right here we have a lot of steampunk fanboys who have mythologized a clever, perhaps exceptional, but not magical scientist.

      Grow up and be skeptical. You’re not 5 anymore.

  32. Filip says:

    I know this seems a little mean but the reason they failed to achieve the results they wanted is because THEY ARE NOT NIKOLA TESLA. He was a genius but now a lot of people have never even heard of him. There are so many factors that should have been taken into account with this experiment that there is no way they could have accurately reproduced the conditions of Tesla’s original quake- machine test. This myth is a major do-over. Or at least take the time to do it properly, record that, and edit it into an hour long video.

    P.S. I have a lot of respect for your work but you guys really didn’t do a good job on this experiment.

  33. surojit pal says:

    i create 1 machine who alert that earth qake coming.

  34. Serge says:

    You people are loud arrogant idiots, Tesla was a genius, don’t even dream you could accomplish what he could, it is FACT that experiment was true and so is the science behind it, a bunch of self important loud mouth arrogant american school kid mentality losers have busted NOTHING….IDIOTS!

  35. tokyo tabi says:

    i think tesla’s machine could have worked based on something I discovered one night in my toilet of all places!

    The toilet tank in my apartment had a broken release valve in it (the toilet kept running), and it was causing the rod that holds the plunder to vibrate, causing a high pitched whine (it was self oscillating), after i tried to adjust it to make it stop, it became much worse and started vibrating the house’s entire pipe system violently in about 15 seconds. if i didn’t stop it (by tuning it differently), it would have busted the pipes or worse, as the lever was feeding back on itself and amplifying the vibration throughout the whole plumbing system, which did sound like an earthquake. just by adjusting the rod by 1 or 2 millimeters totally made it stop, so essentially I was tuning it.

    i think teslas machine worked on this same principle. i mean you shake the hell out of a street lamp with one finger in about five minutes, so i can’t imagine tesla’s idea wouldn’t have worked.

  36. Elya says:

    figure, if water flows out the faucet aywany why not extract at least part of the power required to get it there?This Tesla turbine uses about 3 GPM which is 180 gallons per hour.It runs at about 800-1200 rpm, depending on water pressure.I calculated mounting one to the water mains to each house would save over 20 million dollars a year in power in the US but the capital costs of setting up would take hundreds of years to pay off!

  37. Alex says:

    Nikola Tesla had such a unique lab that it would be impossible to “make a model of”. Tesla’s machines were so advanced, our governments are still trying to replicate some of his work. His intelect was so beyond these scientists, yet still they discredit his work as if the authority to do so. Tesla was passionate about telling the truth, he did not over exaggerate. His machine was a free floating cylinder that created a number of frequencies, and certainly not with anything as literal as a jack hammer. They were special scalar waves that were modified with his own very intricate devices.

  38. Tom says:

    if mythbusters cant do it, then its not possible!!? nobody knows all things about everything, they shoud take more advise from people that are experts on the subjekt they are trying to bust, this is not the point, the show brings in money, thats the bottom line

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