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Getting ready for the Next Generation Science Standards? This e-Lab meets ALL NGSS science practices. See Standards link in the menu for listing.

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 e-Lab Summary

Students can collaborate to analyze seismic data from LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory. From start to finish this is a student-led, teacher-guided project. Students write a researchable question and analyze data in much the same way as professional scientists. e-Lab tools facilitate collaboration among students as they develop their investigations and report their results.

Students begin their investigation by watching a Cool Science video to understand the context of their project. They can perform one of four studies: earthquake, frequency band, microseismic and human-induced seismic activity. They can use the project milestones to guide their research and can record their work and reflect on their progress in their e-Logbook. Students post the results of their studies as online posters. The real scientific collaboration follows. Students can review the results of other studies online comparing data and analyses. Using online tools, they can correspond with other research groups, post comments and questions, prepare summary reports and, in general, participate in the part of scientific research that is often left out of classroom experiments.

One sample poster is available. In the future, a poster that exceeds expectations will also be included.

 Introduction to LIGO

LIGO's huge laser interferometers in Washington State and in Louisiana listen for the faint ripples of space-time called gravitational waves. LIGO seeks to detect gravitational waves from the collisions of black holes or neutron stars and from star explosions known as supernovae. These interferometers are capable of measuring movements that are smaller than one thousandth of the diameter of a proton. Because the detectors are built on the ground, ground vibrations can affect their operation. Consequently, LIGO closely monitors these vibrations through an array of seismometers mounted at each Observatory. Students can use data from these seismometers to explore a wide vareity of seismic questions, many of which will have a connection to LIGO's science operations.
Make sure your students begin with the Cool Science video to understand the context of their research.

LIGO Hanford in Washington State - LIGO Livingston in Louisiana

 Good Research Questions

Developing a good research question is one of the most challenging parts of the e-Lab for many students. A good research question provides a framework around which students can build a research plan. Good research questions are testable. "How often do earthquakes happen?" might not be a helpful research question since it doesn't point to a deeper cause-and-effect relationship. "Is there a relationship between how often earthquakes happen and where they happen (epicenter)?" is a better question because the researcher will inevitably be faced with cause-and-effect connections as the reserch plan unfolds. The LIGO e-Lab provides the opportunity for many good research questions based on earthquakes.

 Student Prior Knowledge and Skills

Before doing the LIGO e-Lab, students should be comfortable with these skills:

  • Make basic measurements
  • Make basic calculations
  • Interpret basic graphs
  • Write a research question
  • Make a research plan

We provide a refresher for students who need to brush up on these skills. Students access these from "The Basics" section of the project milestones.

 Learner Outcomes and Assessment

Here are the e-Lab outcomes that students must demonstrate:

  • Content and Investigation:
    • Describe some basic concepts of wave behavior such as speed, arrival time, frequency and amplitude in the context of seismic activity.
    • Describe several factors that cause changes in LIGO's seismic data
    • Explain how LIGO's measurement of seismic waves contributes to the project's effort to detect gravitational waves.
    • Design an investigation that asks a testable hypothesis, which can be answered from seismic data and provides an explanation of what you learn about seismic data.
  • Process:
    • Explain the data collection process.
    • Collect, organize and analyze data to obtain meaningful findings.
    • Use the data to provide evidence to support their claims.
  • Computing:
    • Explain why they used specific computing resources in their analysis.
  • Literacy:
    • Demonstrate an ability to express meaning in writing (such as in science notebooks, reports) and come to agreement about meaning with others (such as peer review, discussion).

Assessment is aligned to learner outcomes. While many teachers will want to design their own assessments, we provide some options.

  • Rubrics: Content & Investigation, Process, Computing, Literacy and Poster
  • e-Logbooks: Track progress and provide feedback on student work.
    Review all students' entries for a particular milestone and make notes in your logbook for next year.
    Click on the pencil icon in the navigation bar to access your logbook.
    Review students' evidence of what they know/understand and reflections on their research.
     Look at this sample logbook.
  • Milestone Seminars: Check student understanding before they move from one section of the project milestones to another.

 Suggestions for Getting Started

The LIGO Seismology Instructional unit: Are you teaching a course that involves seismology content? Consider using the LIGO seismology instructional unit as a means of addressing seismology learning objectives while providing a natural way for students to engage in the LIGO e-Lab. The standards-based instructional unit includes plans for approximately eight seismology lessons followed by seven lessons that utilize the e-Lab. Download the instructional unit as a PDF File or as a Word Document.

Remember that students can look through completed posters to gain ideas for research questions. You can look at the Classroom Activities other teachers have shared.

Some teachers will choose to use the seismology intructional unit and will introduce the LIGO e-Lab in the context of the unit. Other teachers, such as physics teachers, might not utilize the instructional unit and will come to the LIGO e-Lab from a different direction, such as a unit on wave behavior or on science inquiry skills. In either case, a good way to begin the LIGO e-Lab is to invite the class to watch Cool Science together. Play the Standalone Movie and enlarge the window.

Teachers can help students get started in the e-Lab by asking broad questions in class discussion. These are not research questions. Their intent would be to motivate kids to start thinking about good research questions. The following questions are general and would require no specific prior experience:

  • Make a list of different types of events that could make the ground shake. Which ones are the most interesting to you (the student)?
  • Do all earthquakes seem to affect LIGO's gravitational wave detectors equally?
  • If you observed an event on a graph of seismometer data, do you think you could determine if the event was caused by natural versus human activity? How would you investigate this?

Other teacher questions might draw upon recent student learning. For instance if students had completed an earth science unit, some motivational questions might be:

  • Do you think that you can see the difference between P and S earthquake waves in real seismometer data?
  • Can you use seismometer data to analyze the speeds at which seismic waves travel in the ground?
  • Do earthquakes of a certain magnitude tend to look the same in LIGO's seismometer data?

If students have covered wave behavior in a physics or physical science class, some starter questions could be:

  • What can you learn by looking at a single seismic event in different frequencies?
  • Does the power carried by seismic waves vary with their frequency?

Remember that students can look through completed posters to gain ideas for research questions.

Here are some studies students can do:

  • Earthquakes: A number of earthquake studies are possible with the e-Lab data. From what epicenter distance can LIGO detect earthquake waves? How fast do earthquake waves travel? Are P and S waves distinguishable in the data? If so, what can we learn about how these waves travel through the earth?
  • Frequency Band Studies: LIGO's Data Monitoring Tool data channels (DMT channels) are segregated by frequency ranges. Students can study similar time periods and/or similar seismic events by looking at different frequencies of seismic vibrations.
  • Microseismic Studies: Microseisms provide a constant low-frequency seismic signal in the ground that is related to ocean wave activity. What environmental factors can cause microseisms to vary in strength?
  • Studies of Human-induced Seismic Activity: Humans do things that make the ground shake. What types of human activity can show up in LIGO data? What effect do these activities exert on LIGO's interferometers?

   Navigating Students Through the e-Lab

 Help Desk & Sharing Ideas

Use the Help Desk Form to get technical assistance from our staff. Click on the lifesaver icon in the upper right hand corner of the teacher pages when you are logged in.
Be sure to click on Share Ideas in the menu above to see what other teachers have shared in Facebook. They may have the answers to your questions. You may have answers to theirs! Maybe you want to collaborate on a study.

 e-Lab Technology Requirements

Relax! The e-Lab requires Javascript and Plug-ins enabled in your Web browser. Most browsers default to these settings.

  • If Javascript is not enabled, you will see a message on the student home page and at the top of this page.
  • If Plug-ins are not enabled, you won't see the Flash movie on the student home page.

Ask your tech support person if you need help with browser settings. The Resources in the Library and the background material may include YouTube videos and java applets, but these are not critical for using the e-Lab.