By Joseph Deinlein

The Daily Item

LEWISBURG -- Brad Jordan walked around a clump of shrubs in front of Carnegie Hall at Bucknell University and went down the steps into the basement of the building, which is more than 100 years old.

The air was dank as he led the way down a short hall to a locked room marked student laboratory.

"We tried to put it in a room the least used these days," said Jordan, Bucknell's director of laboratories for the geology department.

There, in the back corner of the room filled with old plastic bags of dirt and rocks sat a yellow box with a sign that read: "Caution! Bucknell Seismometer. Do not bump."

Jordan said the device beneath the box, on campus since about 2002, was no bigger than a coffee can.

But it is sensitive enough to pick up earthquakes of 5.0 magnitude or greater anywhere in the world. It detected the recent quakes in Japan and Haiti.

And it registered the 5.8 magnitude temblor that shook the East Coast at 1:51 p.m. Tuesday.

"It's pretty cool that it's just sitting on a basement slab and can pick all that up," Jordan said.

Fancy seismographs like those maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey are normally located in caves or elsewhere underground, said Mary Beth Gray, a Bucknell geology professor.

"Ideally, you pin it to the bedrock," she said.

Jordan said it works like this: Picture a heavy weight suspended from the top of a box by a spring. If you shake the box, the weight is so heavy it would stay still while the box moved around it.

If you attach a pencil to the side of the weight and had it touch the side of the box, you would be able to measure how much the box moved relative to the weight.

The Bucknell seismograph uses digital equipment, allowing it to amplify signals, he said.

The device is connected to a monitor in the basement of O'Leary Hall, home to the geology department, where passersby can see the device in action.

Yearly, there are about 100 earthquakes around the world of 5.0 magnitude or greater, Gray said.

Trending Video

Recommended for you