Geosciences graduate students teach earthquake 'fun-damentals' to kids at AGU

December 16, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Children attending the Exploration Station, an educational event hosted by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) on Sunday, Dec. 13, had the chance to learn about earthquakes and sedimentary science thanks to a group of graduate students from Penn State’s Department of Geosciences. The Exploration Station included more than 30 hands-on exhibits for children. Three Penn State doctoral candidates — John Leeman, Abby Kenigsberg and Kerry Ryan — created a series of activities for their center, titled “Fun-damentals of Friction and Faulting.”

“Our hope is that if you get kids excited about science, they can take away a curiosity about the world. We want to inspire young scientists to grow up and do innovative things,” said Ryan, whose faculty adviser is Chris Marone, professor and associate head of graduate programs in the Department of Geosciences.

family using hands-on earthquake science activities

A family uses one of the hands-on activities created by the geosciences graduate students as part of their educational table at the Exploration Station, an annual event hosted by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

IMAGE: Kerry Ryan

In one activity, children could learn how physical stress creates strain on rocks by squeezing a cube and watching a pressure meter change. Another display showed the basics of earthquake movement — how they move and stop in repeated intervals, and how different types of friction can affect the type of earthquake that occurs.

"Personally, I really enjoyed talking to the middle school and high school science teachers who came to our demonstration. It was great to connect and exchange ideas with other people who share our enthusiasm for sharing science," said Ryan.

"I really enjoyed seeing our demonstrations turn on lights bulbs in people's heads. It's really fun when someone gets it and is amazed by the physical world they live in," said Leeman.

The displays are directly related to the doctoral research being conducted by Ryan, Kenigsberg and Leeman. All three work in Penn State’s Rock Mechanics Laboratory, located in Deike Building.

“In the Rock Mechanics Lab, we primarily focus on earthquake friction studies. This outreach event is great because we can take the main concepts we investigate in our lab and put them at a more basic level for children to understand,” said Ryan.

The outreach event was nothing new for faculty and students in the Rock Mechanics Lab. They regularly participate in educational outreach activities including Shake, Rattle & Rocks; Easterly Parkway Elementary School’s Science Fair; and the Earth and Mineral Sciences Exposition (EMEX), an annual student-run event that shows prospective students about opportunities in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

“We have a lot of good demos and hands-on activities that we’ve built for previous outreach events, so whenever we get a chance to participate in another outreach even, we always think, ‘Why not?’ We think it’s important to share science with everyone, especially children,” said Ryan.

three students standing next to demonstration table

Abby Kenigsberg, Kerry Ryan and John Leeman, left to right, stand at their demonstration table, "Fun-damentals of Friction and Faulting." The three Penn State geosciences doctoral students created hands-on activities to show children earthquake and sedimentary science.

IMAGE: Kerry Ryan

Kerry, Kenigsberg and Leeman attended the conference with a cohort of more than 30 faculty and students from the Department of Geosciences who presented their own research at the AGU Fall Meeting, which was held Dec. 14-18 in San Francisco.

The Exploration Station was one of two public events hosted by AGU prior to its fall meeting. The other event was a lecture by Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State, titled “Ice Cores to Smart Phones: The Good News on Energy, the Environment, and Our Future.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 16, 2015