When the earth shakes in California, the first place you are likely to hear about it is on social media. “Earthquake!” “Did you feel that?” “How big?” Are the common messages on Twitter and Facebook as Californians try to share information on cell phones in real time while heading under a sturdy table to protect themselves from falling objects? But wouldn’t you rather to hear about the upcoming earthquake before it happens and prepare for it? Well, turns out there’s an app for that.

Not too long ago scientists unveiled an app that will test this idea with anyone around the world who wants to participate.  “MyShake”, the free app, uses smartphone sensors to detect movement caused by an earthquake. You know earthquakes happen in one location and the waves start moving, much like you throw a pebble into a pond and the waves start moving in a circle of rings. Users who download the app will be sending data to scientists when an earthquake as small as a magnitude 5 hits. By harvesting information from hundreds of phones closest to the earthquake, scientists will be able to test a computer system that could, in the future, dispatch early warnings that shaking is seconds or minutes away to people farther away from the earthquake’s origin, to give them a little time to prepare.
This is a citizens’ science project, so you could become a bit of a scientist by participating. The app uses a common sensor found in smartphones, called accelerometers that detect which way the phone is oriented — in a portrait or in a landscape position. The warnings will eventually give trains time to slow down, decreasing a risk of derailment before shaking arrives, sound an alert in hospitals to warn surgeons to halt surgery and have elevators open their doors at the nearest floor, preventing people from becoming trapped or really heading under a sturdy table. This is a welcome development for early earthquake warning and represents a great use of “Crowdsourcing” – using information gathered by the public – for science. “Crowdsourcing” data from citizen scientists are part of a growing trend in many fields of research. The popular software “Waze” is basically using “Crowdsourcing” to help drivers in real time avoid traffic jams and other driving hazards, for example.
So use your phone to help science!!!!

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