Tag Archives: volcanoes

UC scientists mix technology, art and roleplay to show teens the earth’s power

Combining special effects, science, art and storytelling, University of Canterbury geological scientists have developed an exciting hi-tech game to help high school students understand the power of the earth.

The game, called ‘Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth’, was developed by UC volcanologist Associate Professor Ben Kennedy and geological 3D visualisation expert Dr Jonathan Davidson with help from artists, digital experts and educators. The game integrates storytelling, 3D software, video technology, holograms, comic art and geology to teach secondary school students about the inner workings of volcanoes and the role of geologists and engineers.

Students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi in Christchurch were the first to test the game this week.

“One group jumped out of their seats celebrating when they got the right answer,” Dr Davidson says. “It was really exciting to see it all come together and see them having fun. Hopefully it inspired some of them to think about a career in science or engineering in the future.”

Dr Kennedy says the game enables the students to experience science through educated play and by becoming the stars of the game.

“The students ultimately have to work out how to ‘save the planet’ by finding and safely extracting renewable energy from a volcano,” Dr Kennedy says.

“It puts the students in the role of the geologist or engineer, saving planet earth from a potential environmental disaster.”

Dr Kennedy and Dr Davidson came up with the idea for the game while watching the 2005 disaster movie Supervolcano about a massive volcanic eruption, which used 3D imagery to show the geological processes behind the eruption.

“We thought it would be really cool to try and replicate the 3D holographic effects in the classroom, especially as a way to inspire younger kids and get them excited about geology and how it makes a difference in the world,” Dr Davidson says.

The game sees students work in teams of four to role play as scientists or engineers trying to drill into a magma chamber to extract its power. Each team member is assigned a job (geophysicist, environmental risk manager, volcanologist, or drilling engineer) and watches entertaining videos relating to their role. The team members then share their knowledge, as real scientists and engineers would, to identify such things as the location, depth and budget of the drilling. They input their answers into an online form. At the end of the game, they get to see the consequences of their proposed solution visualised in a 3D hologram. 

“Its characters are a bit silly and hopefully make the students laugh while they’re learning, but we also hope there’s some excitement,” Dr Kennedy says.

“Drilling too deep could initiate an eruption and kill everyone. But, get it right; and you can cool down the magma chamber, reduce the risk of a large eruption, make renewable energy and save the earth!”

The game was created with help from UC educational psychologist Dr Valerie Sotardi of UC’s School of Educational Studies and Leadership, teachers Ian Reeves and Georgina Barrett, artist Elizabeth Mordensky, and UC videographer Rob Stowell. The 3D visualisation used local Christchurch 3D geological software company Leapfrog to create the magma holograms.

The project received $30,000 in funding from the Unlocking Curious Minds 2017 funding round, administered by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. UC provided in-kind support through staff time, use of equipment and facilities.

The UC scientists hope to share the game with other schools, museums and educational centres around New Zealand.

Throwing rocks at research

In a small, unassuming container on  Ilam
campus, rocks are being fired at building materials to
simulate a volcanic eruption. Associate Professors Ben Kennedy and Thomas Wilson and PhD student Mr George Williams are putting exterior building claddings to the test with the help of a full-scale ballistics cannon.

The cannon can accurately fire rocks at the same velocity as
they would be flung from a volcano – about 160 kilometres per hour.

(Below: PhD student Mr George Williams and Associate Professor Thomas Wilson.)

Chronicle George Williams Thomas Wilson

“It can fire rocks at the actual speed they come out of a volcano, andin turn we can work out the exact velocity and masses required to puncture holes in roofs, and also work out what the danger might be to people beneath those roofs,” says Associate Professor Kennedy.

The team has tested a number of building materials, including roofing iron, timber weatherboards and concrete slabs, with
quite destructive results. However, as George points out, that doesn’t necessarily mean rocks will breach buildings during a
volcanic eruption.

“I was testing just a single layer of sheet metal, for instance, and if you lower the speed just a little bit that drastically reduces its energy and its potential to keep carrying on through the house,” he says.

The programme of study, which has been building over the last five to eight years, is collecting empirical data in a controlled environment. Its focus is on three specific elements:

  • the hazard (rocks falling out of the sky)
  • what assets are exposed
  • what relates the first two elements, the vulnerability of built infrastructure and how much it can sustain.“Generally the New Zealand components performed better and were stronger than more fragile overseas infrastructure, which is probably due to our building systems to meet earthquake standards,” says Associate Professor Wilson.

    “Although volcanic eruptions rarely occur in a built environment the value of the research is immeasurable, particularly for advice if people are trapped in buildings, where is the safest place to take cover?

    “It will help us better design for disasters.Fundamentally it should help us save lives.”