Saturday, December 26, 2009

Seismometer App

In FFFFOO Agents AB | 4 Stars | Science
The good: Measures shaking down to a subtle heart beat. Very creative use of iPhone's builit in accelerometer. Realistic looking needle.
The bad: No recorder. Can't scroll back to see results. In its current form, you can't quantify, label, or time-stamp data.
The bottom line: For students new to the study of earthquakes, Seismometer 1.1 is a great introduction. Simple, interactive, fun, worth it.
Price: $.99
Reviewed on an: iPhone 3G
Version reviewed: 1.1
This Week In Ed Tech’s Review
by Buzz Garwood
Ever taught a lesson on earthquakes and tried to explain how a seismometer works? I've built simple models before, using nothing more than a shoe box, pencil, string, and some paper, but my models usually fall flat and the seismographs they produce are usually less than impressive.
One of the first apps I downloaded for my iPhone was Seismometer. It's a nice introduction to how real seismometers record seismic activity. Last month, my students began a unit on earthquakes. I turned on my iPhone, launched Seismometer, and placed my iPhone under the document camera for everyone to see. Just as you might imagine, the digital graph paper began scrolling across the screen as a needle drew one continuous line. I then invited a student to approach the table where the iPhone was set, and asked him to shake the table. Immediately, the needle spiked.
The students were impressed with how sensitive the iPhone was to even the slightest shaking. I barely jarred the table and the needle jumped. I then shook the table violently for five or six seconds, and students immediately noticed the difference. This little app was just the right thing I needed to build interest in my unit on earthquakes, and open some good conversations about how scientists study them. 
The developer has built in some nice features since the 1.0 release, such as toggling the high-pass filters on or off; adjusting the sampling frequency: 20 Hz, 40 Hz, 60 Hz, or 200 Hz; choosing between logarithmic or linear scales; and the choice to measure either z axis, y & z, or all.
One might expect a scientific app like this to allow users to scroll back and see results. Unfortunately, in its current form, you can't do this because it does not save recordings. In addition, the iPhone's small screen makes it possible to only see about five seconds of activity at a time. Also, you can't label, time-stamp, or analyze data in any quantifiable way. It would be nice, in future releases, to build in some kind of data collection and analysis functionality. 
Despite the lack of more advanced scientific features, the novelty itself is worth a buck. Students will appreciate seeing a real seismometer and enjoy making the needle dance around. As a side note, my students recently visited the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California, where there is a similar device hanging on the wall in their earthquake area - only it's a 40" LCD flat panel TV.  Students are encouraged to jump up and down and see how hard they can cause the needle to spike. This app works exactly the same way, but for a fraction of the cost.

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