Shaky data collection helping students learn about seismology

How much does Wrangell shake, rattle and roll? Shake Club wants to find out.

Four students from grades seven through 12 have been involved with the seismic data-collection program since last fall and are getting ready to present their findings at a conference in Fairbanks this weekend.

Shake Club is a joint effort of University of Alaska Fairbanks Earthquake Center and the Teaching Through Technology (T3) Alliance program. Senior Will Ashton, sophomore Ander Edens, eighth grader Andrei Bardin-Siekawitch and seventh grader Silje Morse are learning how to program computers to detect seismic activity.

The students are using Raspberry Pi computers that have tremor sensors built in, which can detect the slightest movement, such as someone tapping the table the sensor is set on, someone walking by, or even a conversation in the computer's vicinity.

According to the T3 Alliance website, the club is meant to help students gain skills in coding and data analysis, app design, science communication, computer networking and community engagement to address local needs.

"What we're trying to do is set up an early warning system, so if one of (the computers) gets input, which is like an internal warning, if both of them get strong shaking detected, then it sets off an alarm," Bardin-Siekawitch said.

Students were introduced to Shake Club during a T3 Alliance trip to Fairbanks last fall. Since then, the four members have been meeting and working to set up their computers and collect data.

"I've been super hands-off other than getting them to apply in the beginning and getting them access to the school or more shake parts to make it function," said Heather Howe, who oversees the T3 groups in Wrangell. "They set up all their own meeting times with their (statewide) group and their group here in Wrangell."

Howe said she's excited to see what the students learn and share this weekend, and she's hoping they're able to provide a presentation of their experience sometime after their return.

Edens said they have one Raspberry Pi collecting data from its location in the school basement, and the other computers will be placed in two other areas of town to get a more accurate reading of any possible tremors. The devices send readings to a web service that shows a map of all the data being collected by Shake Clubs across the state.

"We should be able to monitor smaller tremors pretty accurately," Edens said. "I think it's mostly for after-the-fact data collection ... because Node-RED isn't powerful enough to detect a buildup of smaller tremors over time."

Node-RED is an online JavaScript-based programming system that works with computer hardware like Raspberry Pi, allowing the students to create connectivity flows between devices.

The students have different reasons for wanting to be involved in the club, such as learning how to code or learning about seismic activity, but they all said a bonus was the college credit they will earn through UAF for being in Shake Club.

At the conference in Fairbanks, student presentations will be reviewed by seismologists and each club will be given feedback. The overall goal, Edens said, is "to have a seismic monitoring system within Wrangell that isn't 50 years old."

Morse said learning a programming skill has been fun, but she's not sure if what she is learning will play into any future endeavors.

"I just like earthquakes. The really minor ones are fun to be in," she said. "It's like, 'Shaky, shaky. Whee!'"


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