July/August 1998

Larry J. Ruff
Dept. of Geological Sciences
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

"Could it happen here?" All seismologists are asked this question, sometimes when they least expect it. If you happen to be the village seismologist, then you acquire some experience in answering this question after a newsworthy earthquake somewhere in the world. But no seismologist is safe. You might be a student, or an exploration seismologist, or a retired earthquake engineer, but casual conversations at the store, at a party, at a carwash, or--my favorite--at family gatherings provide lots of opportunities for someone to ask the question. For those readers who thought that I was going to provide a simple, direct, and universal answer to this question--sorry. Instead, I want to emphasize a particular aspect of the situation posed by this question: all seismologists have opportunities to educate others about seismology and science.

Earthquakes are fascinating natural phenomena that stimulate the curiosity and imagination of nearly all people of all ages and from all parts of the world. This combination of fascination and curiosity provides a great opportunity for education--not just about earthquakes, but ultimately for all related aspects of seismology, earthquake engineering, and public policy. For these reasons, seismologists have always been involved in public education. Indeed, one of the long-standing stated objectives of the SSA is to inform and educate the public. EduQuakes is a new SRL column that will provide a forum for this ongoing educational mission of the SSA and its members. EduQuakes will be a flexible and diverse forum. Given the broad goals of the SSA, the subject matter for EduQuakes can range over all fields of seismology, earthquake engineering, and related fields in public policy. The target audience for the educational materials can range from graduate students, undergraduates, and elementary and secondary teachers and students to the general public and public officials. In other words, the entire spectrum of SSA activities and all educational levels are appropriate topics for this column. We envision that the format and content shall vary among editorial remarks, information snippets, longer articles that focus on a particular educational topic, and publication of invited and contributed columns from the seismological community. EduQuakes will take advantage of the growing use of the web in education and the strong presence of SRL and the SSA in electronic materials. There will be a web page for EduQuakes that is accessed through the SSA web pages. The column will serve as an entry point into extensive resources available on the web pages. In this regard, EduQuakes is both a companion and a beneficiary of the "Electronic Seismologist." Also, comments, information, and even article contributions can be e-mailed to us at

Given the broad mission statement of EduQuakes, it may be helpful to give some specific examples of potential contributions to this column. Examples of "information snippets" are:

  • links to web sites with education materials
  • short answers to questions that students ask
  • announcements of opportunities for teachers and students.

An example of a longer contribution might be a complete "how to" seismological exercise such as how to calculate Ms. But perhaps a more typical educational contribution might involve the advertisement of such an exercise available somewhere else. Let me give some examples of this type of contribution for various educational levels:

  • In the arena of elementary and secondary education, many teachers want to do more with seismology in the classroom, but they lack the resources and curriculum materials to do so--EduQuakes can help advertise available resources and materials.
  • In the arena of undergraduate education, many university faculty have expressed a desire to see a Problem Set Exchange forum--EduQuakes can help facilitate this forum.
  • In the arena of graduate education, many faculty find it difficult to teach advanced classes to a small class size. One solution to this problem is web-based remote courses--EduQuakes can help as the promoter and registrar for this activity.
  • In the arena of public education, museum displays are a valuable and effective means to reach the general public--EduQuakes could provide a list of museum systems and materials so that you can help your local museum develop a display.
  • In the arena of public official education, someday you might need rapid access to brochures specifically written for public officials--EduQuakes can provide references and links to organizations that have these materials already prepared.

Notice that in the above examples, the EduQuakes column itself is not the fundamental information source, but rather it is merely the forum for information exchange. Thus, this aspect of EduQuakes depends on you, the SRL reader. While we hope that you will learn something by reading this column, we also hope that this endeavor will inspire you to help with the educational role of seismology. It is difficult to anticipate all the possible contributions that each of us could make; perhaps some anecdotal evidence will illustrate the value of unexpected opportunities.

In my role as a village seismologist, I have spent years reassuring the local residents that, "No, it should not happen here." Given that my village is located in southern Michigan, I developed an excellent record for my predictions. However, my record and confidence was shaken a bit by the Michigan earthquake of Sept. 2, 1994 (magnitude of 3.4). The Ann Arbor "MichSeis" seismograph produced a very nice seismogram for this event, but much more interesting results came from the educational component of "MichSeis." A high school teacher initiated a joint research project that linked up with elementary school students to do a detailed intensity survey in the epicentral region. The results from this project were eventually combined with other research results and published as an earthquake report in Seismological Research Letters. In regions not covered by accelerographs, detailed intensity surveys are beneficial for microzonation and hazards mitigation. The involvement of K-12 teachers and students in this science project has benefits of much greater scope. I learned something about landforms and shaking, but I learned much more about the potential for seismology in education. If you wonder whether or not you can make a difference in science education, I do have a simple, direct, and universal answer: "Yes, it can happen here!"

SRL encourages guest columnists to contribute to "EduQuakes." Please contact Larry Ruff with your ideas. His e-mail address is

Posted: 30 June 1998