Seismometers, software & datalogging

Making your own earthquake

Detecting the minute vibrations caused by earthquakes that happened thousands of kilometres away with a simple piece of equipment sitting in your own school creates a 'wow' moment for students — and sometimes staff as well. 

The instruments required to do this are surprisingly simple — and some can even be made by teachers in a school workshop.

Analysis and datalogging software

Designed specifically for use by schools, free software allows users to record, view and analyse data from a wide variety of simple seismic sensors.

Networked computers can also share the data that they record with other users around the world in realtime and users without their own sensor can use the software to view data from other stations in the UK and worldwide.

More information about analysis and datalogging software.

Live streaming data via jAmaSeis

It is possible, and very useful, for schools that are operating their own seismic recording sites to share the data that they record online.

Schools using jAmaSeis datalogging software can make use of the live streaming facilities within jAmaSeis to share data in real time via a link to the jAmaSeis data server (located in Seattle, USA).

Once a data stream is linked to the jAmaSeis server, this data is then available to any other users of jAmaSeis software anywhere in the world in real time (with a data buffer of seven days' worth of data maintained on the jAmaSeis server).

This is especially useful for schools wishing to share data access and analysis opportunities with pupils (and teachers) remotely, even if that means on a computer in another room in the school or at home.

Manual upload of selected event files

School users can also manually select seismograms associated with specific seismic events on their own dataloggers and to save these event files as distinct data files in the .sac data format.

The .sac data files can then be manually uploaded to the schools seismology website and made available to share with other users.

Mindsets Online seismology resources

Mindsets Online have a long history of developing and marketing seismology resources aimed at schools. 

Slinky seismometer

 Slinky seismometer

The slinky based sensor (c.£30) is great for demonstrating principles and sensitive enough to detect P-waves from distant events or local sources (Mindsets SEP 067). This unit works well the USB digitiser (Mindsets SEP 064).

USB digitser

USB seismometer interface

USB seismometer interface (c.£75) for use with slinky seismometer, or any simple seismometer design, (Mindsets SEP 064)

Vibration detector

Vibration detector

Vibration detector (c.£25), for classroom and tabletop experiments measuring vibration signals (Mindsets SEP 171).

This unit works with the microphone input of a PC soundcard using any sound recording software (e.g. Audacity)

Garden gate SEP seismometer

Garden gate SEP seismometer

Garden gate SEP seismometer (now discontinued).

Mindsets sold over 600 of these simple mechanical sensors between 2006-2016.

Other slinky seismometers

slinky seismometer

A very simple seismometer can be constructed at home from just a mass on a spring with a magnet and coil as a transducer.

Seismometers need to detect very low frequency signals to record earthquakes and to do this with a mass-spring arrangement you either need a very heavy mass or a very weak spring so that the natural oscillation frequency of your mass-spring system is lower than the signal you are trying to detect.

Boise State University in the USA have also produced a design for a slinky seismometer (TC1), or you can simply construct one yourself at home. The TC1 sensor will interface with the USB digitiser (Mindsets SEP 064) sold by Mindsets.

Lego seismometer

Adding a weight to balance the sensor.

You can make your own simple seismometer using Lego, plus a metal spring, magnet, coil and digitiser unit.

We provide full instructions of how to build your own Lego seismometer.

RaspberryPi 'seismometer'

Analogue to digital converter (ADC)

You could program a Raspberry Pi in Python to collect and log data from a simple seismometer, such a slinky sensor, via an analogue to digital converter (ADC).

We provide detailed instructions of how to make a RaspberryPi datalogger, produced by an A-level student.

Infiltec geophone-based design

Infiltec QM-4.5 sensor

US company Infiltec produce a "black box" seismic sensor based on using a small geophone.

This is a small vertical sensor which lacks the sensitivity or low frequency response of other designs but is very robust and easy to install, it is compatible with Amaseis/Jamaseis datalogging tools.

Infiltec do not have a UK distributor but the sensors may be ordered from the Infiltec website for c.$350 +taxes +shipping.

Strong motion detectors

Many consumer electronics goods now use microchip MEMS accelerometers to detect motion e.g. smart phones, tablets and games controllers. These MEMS accelerometers can also be used to detect ground motion. 

At the moment, they are not sensitive enough to detect signals from distant earthquakes, however if an event happens nearby the data that they record can be quite useful.

MEMS accelerometer options

Basic MEMS accelerometer with USB interface such as the JoyWarrior24F8.

iPhones and android smartphones have several apps available that turn the devices into a seismometer.

Apple laptops have an accelerometer built into them which can be used as a seismometer using SeisMac 3.0 for example.

The Quake-Catcher network makes use of computers fitted with either inbuilt accelerometers (Apple laptops or IBM Thinkpads) or PCs with JoyWarrior USB accelerometers to act as strong-motion seismometers.

The Quake-Catcher network monitors activity from the accelerometer using the computers background processing capability. Each time an event is detected the results are collected by the Quake-Catcher control centre at Stanford University. This is effective for measuring the large signals from nearby earthquakes on thousands of home computers.

Classroom activities

Designing a seismometerDesigning a seismometer

You are going to use what you learned from detecting vibrations to make a more robust and realistic model seismometer.

RaspberryPi seismometerProgramming a RaspberryPi seismometer

Program a Raspberry Pi in Python to collect and log data from a simple seismometer via an analogue to digital converter.

RaspberryPi seismometerProgramming a simple seismometer with Scratch

How to program a seismometer using Scratch with a simple Python script.

Related topics

Pendulum seismoscopes trace History of seismometer design

Historical development of seismometers.

p-wave Seismic waves

P-, S- and surface waves, how seismic waves travel, looking at seismograms.

Earthquake triangulation Locating earthquakes

Arrival times and velocity models.