Shake It Up: New Seismometer at Athenian

Originally published in the Spring 2016 edition of The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper

By Irena Volkov ’16

The Athenian campus recently welcomed DV-01, a digital seismometer that detects microseismic activity and makes its data is available for all students and faculty to analyze.

A seismometer is an instrument that measures the motion of the ground in all directions, specifically seismic waves generated by earthquakes. DV-01 is an urban deployment seismometer, which means that the machine measures the intensity of earthquakes in urban environments.

A seismometer is an instrument that measures the motion of the ground in all directions, specifically seismic waves generated by earthquakes. DV-01 is an urban deployment seismometer, which means that the machine measures the intensity of earthquakes in urban environments.

“It’s specially tuned to things like footsteps and traffic, and it can even be aware of things like construction since we’re going to be working on the roof of the science building sometime soon,” Molly Gowen, Chemistry and Geology teacher, said.

The seismometer is bolted to the ground in the small storage closet next to the former aquarium room and current office to chemistry and environmental science teacher, Marielle Decker and anatomy and physiology teacher, Stephanie Robles.

The idea of adding a seismometer to campus was brought by an Athenian parent, Caroline Johnson. The USGS, U.S. Geological Survey, asked Johnson if they could install a seismometer in her backyard for two years to record data that they would come out and collect later.

Ben Leslie-Bole, geologist and one of the teachers along with Dean of Students, Kathleen Huntington and Photography Teacher, Adam Thorman teaching Athenian’s California Water course, were also involved in bringing the seismometer to campus.

“[Johnson] sent it to us because she thought it would be cool, and it made it’s way to Eugene Mizusawa [Chair of the Athenian Department of Design-Learning and Engineering], and then Eugene and Dick Bradford [Upper School Head and Academic Dean, and Humanities Teacher] and Eric Niles [Head of School], and they moved it to me and Ben Leslie-Bole because Ben takes part in the California Water Course, but also has a geology background,” Gowen said. “So he and I both kind of spearheaded the efforts to have it installed.”

Leslie-Bole was motivated to help Gowen install the device because of his personal interest in earthquakes and because he thought it would be favorable for Athenian students to have access to it.

“I think it’s beneficial for the school to collect original data for students to learn how science happens, and it’s valuable having data generated firsthand so that students can use this data to make their own interpretations of it,” Leslie-Bole said.

Leslie-Bole coordinated the USGS, facilities people, and contracting people at Athenian to have a business plan and formalize an appropriate contract. His role was to get the parties together and the agreements needed for both parties to be satisfied.

“I came to campus with the USGS and met with Molly to evaluate different locations on campus,” Leslie-Bole said. “Once that was cleared with Leslie Lucas [Chief Operating Officer] and Larry Smith [Facilities Manager] on the facilities side, the Internet connections were secured: Matt Binder [Director of Information Systems] was part of that communication.”

Installation, however, was a bit tricky with the USGS people being delayed because of getting a flat tire on the way to Athenian, and because of some unlucky drilling.

“It was supposed to be easy and it was hilariously straightforward up until we drilled a hole in the wall through a power cord, or a set of very important wires, and knocked out power to a section of the building…” Gowen said. “Which was bad, but overall, the installation went really well, it just had it’s normal amount of kinks and hold-ups.”

Smith remained at the science building until 10pm that Wednesday to help install the seismometer and rewire everything to ensure that the power was working before everyone called it a night.

Gowen has plans to integrate the use of the seismometer into the Geology curriculum as well as the middle school science class next year.

“We just learned in geology how to use seismograms to look at ground shaking and also determine the epicenter of earthquakes,” Gowen said. “You need three seismometers to be able to center in on a location, but we can at least use that and some of the other data to figure out experimentally where an earthquake was epicentered and look at what the USGS said and say, ‘how close did we get?’”

DV-01 is actually a part of a brand new study that originated from the Northridge earthquake in the 90’s. This particular seismometer is especially attuned to very low magnitude earthquakes that can figure out how earthquakes propagate through different types of soil and how the valley of Danville will respond to different parts of the earthquakes; while some places may dampen the earthquake, others will amplify it.

It is also a part of a larger array of the Northern California Seismic Network. Originally, the device was going to be a temporary fixture and remain isolated, but since the San Ramon earthquake on Wednesday, April 13, the seismometer is now representing a larger part of the array.

“It’s an important device and gives you so much cool information, but it looks like somebody left it out to sit in the sun,” Gowen said.

The device is just a small box with a plastic box on top of it. The seismometer it purposefully nondescript so that people do not feel like they have a big, hulking machine in their backyards.

“I think that [students] will be excited about it, and then when they see it they’ll be disappointed, and then when they see the data from it, they’ll be excited again,” Gowen said.

Although students and faculty will be able to pull seismograms off the device, the door to the room where the device is located will remain locked for security purposes.

“We can’t leave it unlocked because the thing is very sensitive to shaking, and even though it knows footsteps, we don’t want anyone to just go in and rumble it or try taking the box off of it very much, or possibly unseating the epoxy, which is gluing it to the ground,” Gowen said.

Regardless, Gowen’s students are excited about the notion of pulling the seismograms by going home, logging into the network, and asking, “what’s shakin’ at the school?”

“I think it’s really cool that we are now able to monitor the faults that are close to us,” David Meier ’16 said.

DV-01 is currently constantly measuring ground displacements and consistently calling out to the satellite using its GPS connection that sticks out in a little pod from the science building. The machine also contains an accelerometer that measures how fast the ground is moving.

There was recently a small earthquake that was even recorded on the device. To see more small earthquakes that were recorded in the area, and potentially on Athenian’s seismometer, you can visit the USGS earthquakes map here.

The information to login to the seismometer’s network will be released very soon so that everyone on Athenian’s campus can view the original data collected by our very own DV-01.