Xun Ding

Syeda Hussain

Francesco Novellis

Peter Malcolm

Brenda Lopez Silva

Debi Kilb

Tom Moher


In RoomQuake, an earthquake simulation system, students adopt the pretense that their classroom is an active seismic field, and that a series of earthquakes is expected over the course of several weeks within that field. Ambient media serve as simulated seismographs that depict continuous strip-chart recordings of local vibration (seismograms), where locality is conditioned upon their specific placement in the classroom. Most of the time, the seismograms reflect a low level of background vibration. At (apparently) unpredictable times, a crescendoing rumble (emanating from a subwoofer situated in the corner of the classroom) signals the occurrence of an earthquake. Upon this signal (or as soon thereafter as classroom instruction permits), students move to the seismographic stations to read the waveforms.

Reading the seismogram recorded at a single location provides two critical pieces of information: the magnitude of the event, and the distance (but not direction) of the event from the recording station. Determining the epicenter of an earthquake requires readings from multiple sites, which may be combined together through the process of trilateration to obtain a solution. In RoomQuake, we use calibrated dry-lines anchored at the seismographs to sweep out arcs of potential epicenter loci; the solution is obtained when the students at the end of those lines converge at a common point. Once the location and magnitude have been determined, the teacher hangs a color-coded (representing magnitude) Styrofoam ball from the ceiling at the epicenter point, providing a salient historical record of the event series, and students update poster-based representations of the temporal and intensity distributions of the events. Over the course of about two dozen earthquakes spread over six weeks, the classroom "fault line" emerges.