Some Andover High School students have found a legitimate reason to disrupt their science teacher's lectures | observing live earthquakes happening across the world.

Thanks to modern seismology and an $11,000 grant, that's exactly what happened earlier this fall in senior Scott Pilla's geology class, when a fellow student interrupted teacher Frank Wroblewski's lesson after seeing seismic readings large enough to cause tsunami warnings.

Wroblewski's geology and environmental science classes have been using a seismograph mounted on a lab bench this year to learn hands-on lessons about math, physics, earthquakes and plate tectonics.

"We were talking about something unrelated and the kid looked over and asked if that was an earthquake," said Pilla, 18. "It's pretty exciting. ... I definitely like studying different earthquakes. I never knew we had so many. We never hear about the small ones, we only hear about the major ones."

Andover High School is one of 26 schools in eastern Massachusetts participating in the Boston College Educational Seismology Project. Through a grant from the Andona Society and Philips Medical, students are able to use the seismograph to detect and locate earthquakes happening virtually anywhere on the globe.

As part of the project, a visiting seismologist from Boston College also gives lectures and works in small groups with the students once a week. Wroblewski's elective geology and freshman environmental science classes are participating.

"It's interesting when the students can sit in class and then see an earthquake happening," said Wroblewski. "It's been fun to have one when they're in class. It's a little more interesting than my teaching, I guess."

It takes between seven to eight minutes for an earthquake wave to get from California to the East Coast, according to Wroblewski. While some seismographs are buried in the ground to measure small, local events, the one at Andover High School measures long-distance ground movement through interpreting the movement of the actual school building.

Wroblewski's students have picked up readings from Peru, the Indian Ocean and Central America. But because of the nature of the instrument, local readings equivalent to last year's Danversport explosion won't register on the seismograph.

"It's a unique little instrument," said Wroblewski. "We'd pick up every bus that drove by and every student walking down the hall. It's designed to filter out the local noise."

Data from the seismographs at each of the 26 participating schools is available on the Internet for comparisons, Wroblewski said. Students are able to plot the epicenter of an earthquake by comparing readings with two information from two other schools.

The timing between seismic waves is an indicator of how far away an earthquake is, Wroblewski said.

"It can be very accurately done and very quickly done," Wroblewski said of the seismographic data, which is processed through a computer program. "It does the calculating very quickly for you."

As a geology major in college, Wroblewski said he once constructed a rudimentary seismograph himself.

One drawback to the older models was that the paper used to record the readings needed regular changing.

These days, Wroblewski said, computer analysis of the data is the most enjoyable aspect for some students.

"They are learning how to read and interpret a seismograph and to plot earthquakes," said Wroblewski. "It's a great example because it's hands on."

Pilla agreed working with scientific equipment is more enjoyable than traditional book work.

"That's definitely one of the highlights of the class," said Pilla. "Any time you can work hands on it's much more interesting than learning something in a book and trying to memorize it."





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