The Earthquake Richter Scale and the pH Scale

Written by SuEarl McReynolds, Palo Alto College, San Antonio, TX

When discussing how the pH scale is logarithmic and a one number change is equivalent to 10 times as acidic or basic, I ask if they know what the Richter Scale is. Usually several people know that it has to do with measuring earthquake strength. So I ask how much difference they think there would be between earthquakes with a magnitude of 8 and a magnitude of 9. It’s “only one number.” In reality a magnitude 8 can cause serious damage over several hundred miles, but a magnitude 9 can cause devastating damage over several thousand miles. So one number change is a big difference in these kinds of scales.

When I get to buffers, I have a picture in my PowerPoint of a man working on a floor with a big buffering machine. He’s smoothing out the drastic high spots and low spots on the floor, making it more even. Or a person may act as a buffer between two friends with opposite personalities—again making things more smooth, the differences less pronounced—maybe helping the shy one feel freer to express opinions and the loud one less likely to interrupt and dominate the conversation.