Observatories and Research Facilities for EUropean Seismology
Volume 6, no 2 December 2004 Orfeus Newsletter

SISMALAB: an interactive laboratory for "learning by doing" in seismology and seismic risk

Luciana Cantore1, Aldo Zollo1, Antonella Bobbio2, Flora De Martino3, Luigi Amodio3

1Dipartimento di Scienze Fisiche, Universitą di Napoli "Federico II"
2Osservatorio Vesuviano, INGV
3Science Centre Cittą della Scienza, fondazione IDIS

Forewords - Why SISMALAB - What is SISMALAB - How SISMALAB works - Didactis with SISMALAB - Conclusions - Acknowledgements - References


The Educational Seismology Project (EduSeis) is a scientific and educational effort which involves high schools, scientific museums and research institutes in four different European countries: France, Italy, Portugal, and Germany ( Bobbio and Zollo, 2000).
EduSeis is an European-wide cooperative initiative which has been (up to now) financially supported only at a national scale (mainly in France, Germany, Portugal and Italy), with a small EU contribution ( Comenius - European Cooperation on School Education) to promote teacher's mobility and exchanges on teaching experience.
In Italy, the Department of Civil Protection has financially supported the EduSeis activities through the 2000-2004 Framework program of GNDT-INGV (National Group for Earthquake Defense, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, to develop communication tools aimed at increasng people's awareness about seismic risk and mitigation actions.
In the Italian program, which is part of an existing cooperation between the Science Centre "Cittą della Scienza" of Naples and the University of Naples, modern and advanced educational tools in Earth Sciences have been developed and implemented for didactic and information activities. The Campania region in southern Italy is characterized by intense seismic and volcanic activities. We find here active volcanoes (Mt.Vesuvius, Campi Flegrei caldera, Ischia island volcano) and active faults along the southern Apenninic chain with earthquakes. The relatively large population of around 5 million and recently improved risk prevention legislation in the Campania region make the seismic and volcanic risk a hot item. Among the different actions aimed at mitigating seismic and volcanic risk in the region, information and awareness about earthquake and volcano related hazards has received the highest priority. The EduSeis project is one of those information and awareness programs and has, as such, a significant impact on the prevention of the seismic risk.
This impact has been achieved in two ways: by involving students, teachers and their families in schools and by using museums to educate the general public. Within this framework and the EduSesis project the Science Centre "Cittą della Scienza" plays an important role as an institution specialized in the communication of science. The museum establishes an effective link between the scientific research communities, the schools and the general public using innovative educational training tools supervised by scientific personnel highly experienced in outreach activities.
One of these tools we developed is SISMALAB, based on EduSeis didactic products. SISMALAB is an interactive seismological laboratory at the Science Centre "Cittą della Scienza". Museum visitors and high school classes can with this lab under the guidance approach seismology and seismic risk problems and a set of activities involving seismic data analysis and interpretation.


During a number of years a network of educational seismographs (Figure 1) has been installed in several high schools in Central and Southern Italy and in the Science Centre "Cittą della Scienza" of Naples. Its aim is to diffuse knowledge on Seismology and Earth Science in general and to increase awareness on seismic risk among the young generations.

Figure 1: The EduSeis network: The seismic network allows for the creation and development of a communication network facilitating the exchange of data, ideas and knowledge in Earth Sciences.

Some schools have bought their own instruments, others use temporarily seismographs that are owned by the University of Naples "Federico II". Schools, which do not have their own instrument, perform the educational activities by accessing to data archive available from the project web site.
Data from relevant regional and worldwide earthquakes are recorded by the network and made available to the public through the Eduseis web archive, after preliminary trace selection, formatting and pre-processing (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The EduSeis web site: Many section are available: The EduSeis Project; EduSeis Network; Data Base; Teaching; News; Links. Each section allows to choose more options.

The seismic data archive is the primary tool that teachers, researchers and students use for developing educational materials and carrying out didactic activities. The interactive software developed by Anthony Lomax for data viewing and preliminary analysis, has been implemented in the Eduseis web site and is used both on-line and off-line for seismogram analysis (filtering, picking, amplitude and polarisation measurements,...). The recorded seismic signals can be zoomed and displayed with the seismic signals from several other stations, different seismic wave arrival times can be picked and different band-pass filters are available to improve the seismogram analysis. From our experiences from several years of Eduseis activities we find that the interaction between teachers and researchers working on earthquakes is a key element for realising educative applications and developing high quality toold connected to seismology. Especially so as seismology covers a wide range of sciences (natural sciences, physics, mathematics, technology, civic education and so on). For instance, teachers and students obtained the required capabilities to manage seismic stations installed in the schools by experimenting with the educational material provided within EduSeis. All schools can practise data analysis of research seismological laboratory and learn about earthquakes origin and occurrence, volcanic eruptions and mechanism and Earth Sciences in general, using the EduSeis educational material available on EduSeis web site.

SISMALAB (Figure 3), an interactive lab, was build and implemented at the Cittą della Scienza in this spirit of experimenting with new approaches of formation/information on seismology and seismic risk. In this lab students, teachers and visitors can experiment with the research practice of a typical seismological laboratory. This involves, among others, analyzing seismograms of regional and teleseismic earthquakes recorded by the EduSeis network, picking the arrival times of primary body waves, measuring the signal amplitude and duration, locating the earthquakes and estimating their magnitude and potential damage effects in the source area. These activities are carried out in small groups of students and visitors accompanied by a guide and a help plan. Specialised personnel of the museum superve and animate these activities that are prepared in joint supervision by researchers, teachers and museum operators. In this lab school classes, teachers and museum visitors can test new didactic methods according to the basic idea of "learning by doing".

Figure 3: Science Centre's SISMALAB : A seismology laboratory for learning about earthquakes.


SISMALAB is an interactive exhibit covering a surface of about 30 m2, equipped with six multimedia graphic stations, and an adjacent meeting point room for real-time teaching/learning activities (Figure 4).

Figure 4: SISMALAB is an interactive lab inside the Science Museum where students, teachers and visitors can play and make experiments with earthquakes and seismology.

The graphic stations are installed on a wide rectangular table around which students take places during the activity. The back wall of the table houses a wide screen connected to the graphic stations. During the activities, the central screen is set as a multi-window display operated and managed by the school teachers or museum staff who are in charge of leading and supervising the seismological activity (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Didactic activities with SISMALAB.

Specific didactic activities have been created for SISMALAB that have as main topics earthquake location, to "observe and measure" seismograms, to estimate the earthquake magnitude and other related subjects (figure 6).

Figure 6: Wide band observation: local and teleseismic earthquake records.

Several java applets have been designed in addition to those developed by Anthony Lomax to facilitate the analysis of seismological data. The laboratory can host classes with a maximum of up to twenty-five students. These are divided in five smaller groups. Each group will be experimenting with the software to process seismic data. An assistant directs and monitors the activity of each group, using the central screen. This structure allows for a cooperative working and facilitates the exchange of information among the students and teachers. Activities are generally designed in a way that each group of students performs the same analysis on different data sets (for instance, the picking of the first P and S arrival times on different station records). The central screen allows the students to look and discuss the results of their group with that of another group and the teachers guiding them through the experiments.
In SISMALAB seismic recording can be visualized and analysed on-line, earthquake location can be performed with different graphical methods and specific softwares are used to retrieve and map the recent world worlwide earthquake distribution. A cartography applet has also been used to show depth distribution of earthquakes.

How SISMALAB works

This new approach of teaching and learning allows different groups to operate at the same time on different sets of data applying the same techniques: observing, analysing and explaining. Its aims is to stir curiosity, stimulate students to ask questions and work with seismological data, as if they were in a true research laboratory.
Several accompanying actions are carried out to integrate the SISMALAB educational activity. At the seismological info point of the museum, the teachers and general public can meet experts,organise and prepare visits and excursions and work out programs for teaching activities in Earth Sciences. (Figure 7). Two editorial activities have started aiming at diffusion of the knowledge about the Earth Science (in particular Seismology and Volcanology) and the EduSeis project. One is an information booklet entitled "Earthquakes - How, where, when, why...", where you can find the answer to the most frequently asked questions about earthquakes and seismic activity. The other is a bimestrial electronic Newsletter.

Figure 7: Meeting and training space for teachers and museum visitors.

The SISMALAB Newsletter is an effective tool for quickly spreading informations about the EduSeis project, about the school activities and about the progress in seismological research. The magazine is a multimedial pedagogical product with 4 column: Didactics and popularization, Scientific debates, EduSeis network and EduSeis in the schools. Representatives of the scientific community and the school community have each a column. It is possible to request the Newsletter by sending an e-mail to Flora Di Martino (dmartino@cittadellascienza.it).

Didactis with SISMALAB

A carnet of didactic activities have been created for SISMALAB prepared by teachers, museum staff and scientific researchers in a working group tailored for this aim. The proposed activities are for groups of students and visitors differentiated by age. Each activity is consist of a different level allowing students, teachers and visitors to operate simultaneously in different field of knowledge: observing, analysing and explaining data, all in an experimental way. As an example, we present here two activities entitled A study of a seismogram and Plotting earthquake epicenters.


The Eduseis seismic network of schools and museum together with other related educational activities revealed to be an efficient infrastructure to increase peoples awareness about natural risks. It stimulates students (and indirectly their families) to exchange and share information, ideas and data on earth phenomena and their impact on the environment and social life. Hereby the Science Centre "Cittą della Scienza" has played an important role as facilitator of science communication within the EduSeis project. The museum represents an efficiently link between the scientific community and the schools and general public. In this succesful cooperation between seismologists, school teachers and museum specialists we created and realised SISMALAB, an interactive seismological laboratory operated and maintained by the Science Centre "Cittą della Scienza". In this lab school classes, teachers and museum visitors can experience the real-life practice of a seismological lab and the "learning by doing" with regard to earthquakes and seismic risk. Didactic activities have been specifically created for SISMALAB thanks to the work of a permanent group formed by school teachers, museum personnel and university seismology researchers. In addition this lab has been able to test the practicality, the context and the didactic value of EduSeis material. The success of this experience has been proven by the great numbers of people that visit the museum (about 6500 visitors in 125 days) and the enthusiastic involvement of the schools. We have recorded 300 hours of activities with about 4000 students and about 150 teachers. The SISMALAB is hence an effective instrument for informing and creating awareness about the seismic risk involving the students in the school and the general public in the museum.


The Department of Civil Protection has, through the National Group for Earthquake Defense of INGV (Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia), partially funded the Eduseis project (GNDT Framework program 2000-2003) and allowed the SISMALAB experience to be carried out. We want to express our gratitude to all the people that have contributed with their work to the success. In particularly we acknowledge Mariella Simini, Carlo Paolantonio and Nicola Miranda, teachers of Naples high schools, for work at the Eduseis data management and preparation of didactic activities, and Angela Petrillo for the planning the SISMALAB. We greatly acknowledge the help and assistance of Federica Sapio, Luigi Parlato, Bianca Limoncelli, Tony Stabile and Vittoria Siviglia who supervised and guided the first cycle of educational activities in SISMALAB We thank also J. Virieux, J.L. Berenguer and the Nice group for their participation and support to the EduSeis project and special thanks are due to Torild Van Eck who invited us to submit the paper.


  • Bobbio A. and A. Zollo, 2000. The educational broadband seismic network at Naples (Southern Italy), Orfeus Electronic Newsletter, 2, 23
  • L. Cantore, A. Bobbio, F. De Martino, A. Petrillo, M. Simini, A. Zollo, 2003. The EduSeis project in Italy: a tool for training and awareness on the seismic risk, Seismological Research Letters, no5
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