Case study

First year undergraduate level project: Build a simple seismograph


Nick’s project “…aims to construct a simple seismograph sensitive enough to have a good chance of detecting one or two earthquakes in a month or so. An essential part of the project will be to learn about seismology and what it tells us about the interior of the earth. You will also be encouraged to find out how a state-of-the-art seismograph works!


We are almost certain to pick up spurious signals from internally-generated movements of the Blackett Building, so it will be necessary to compare our records with data from the UK seismograph network.


Some basic electronics will probably become involved, and data acquisition using a digital data logger is envisaged.” (Bignell, 2007)


Where should he start? He doesn’t know much at all about seismographs or seismology. He also needs to remember that this project will involve some experimental work and data analysis as well as some research.

  1. He decides to start by doing some background work on seismology and seismographs. A Google search for ‘seismology’ finds him a number of websites, including that of the British Geological Survey, which has an education page which is a good start. It turns out they also have some useful datasets available online  .
  2. After he tries Google, he decides to also check what’s available in the library. Using the Library Search option found on the library home page to search Books and more, he finds a book which is an introduction to seismiology, which is what he decides to start with..
  3. [need to add in next steps here – see comment]

If Nick was completing this project at an MSci/MSc level, then there would be additional research and analysis involved.

MSci / MSc level project: Build a simple seismograph and search for evidence for a liquid outer core.

If Nick was working on this for his MSci or MSc project then he would follow steps 1 – 3 outlined above, but would then need to do some further research and analysis.

  1. Next, to search for evidence for seismic signals you would expect from the liquid outer core, he would need to search  a database called Web of Science to find peer reviewed journal articles to see what other researchers have found.. He can do a topic search on liquid outer core and seismo* (which includes seismology and seismographs) to identify recent research articles written on the subject. He identifies one key article as a result and can read this  online so can do this from home rather than staying in the library. This article also allows him to find other relevant articles via the References list and the Cited articles list.
  2. Data collection / analysis


The references Nick used:


Bignell, K. (2007) Build a simple seismograph. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 1 September 2011].


British Geological Survey (2011) Geoindex WMS Services [Online] Available from: [Accessed 12 September 2011].

Shearer, P.M. (2009) Introduction to seismology. 2nd edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.


Tkalcic, H., Kennett, B.L.N., & Cormier, V.F. (2009) On the inner-outer core density contrast from PKiKP/PcP amplitude ratios and uncertainties caused by seismic noise. Geophysical Journal International, [Online] 179 (1), 425-443 Available from: DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2009.04294.x [Accessed 12 September 2011].


Search tools he used: Google, the library catalogue and Web of Science.



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