If Monday’s earthquake in China has sparked an interest in seismology, and you happen to own a Mac laptop, you can transform your computer into your own personal seismic station. A free program from SeisMac takes advantage of the acceleration sensor inside you computer to register when it gets the shakes. The program was developed with support from the National Science Foundation and from the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, a consortium of nearly 100 universities.
In the near future, you may be able to participate in earthquake science through a new project called the Quake-Catcher Network. Researchers from several California universities have created the network to use the distributed power of people’s laptops to provide quick data about the strength of shaking during earthquakes. The program works with many kinds of laptops. Because wireless networks send signals faster than vibrations can spread through the Earth, data from laptops in theory can speed ahead of the shaking and provide advance warning before harmful seismic waves strike regions that are more distant from a quake’s epicenter.—Richard Monastersky