Saturday, October 12, 2013

How the Earthquake Machine works

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma (USA) have designed a machine to mimic what happens inside the earth's crust during an earthquake. By understanding this process better, scientists can more accurately predict earthquakes and the extent of their expected damage.

The "How it Works" section of the website Popular Science has clear graphics of the machine, and a short process description.

The first part of the process description describes the parts of the machine; the structure of the text provides a good model for students to emulate in their own process description texts or presentations.

For example, "The heart of the apparatus is a flywheel, a device that stores energy mechanically by spinning at high speeds. It's driven by a 100hp motor that can reach 3,300 rpm within 1/10 of a second. The flywheel connects to a central shaft." (The use of boldface is the text's, not mine.)

The second part details how scientists use the device to model the action of an earthquake:

"To model earthquakes of varying magnitude, researchers start by spinning the flywheel at a given speed; a faster flywheel means a bigger quake. The researchers then disengage it from the motor, letting the flywheel spin on its own stored power."

The article contains verbs that are useful for students to learn because they can be used for other types of technical descriptions, e.g., dissipate, discern, mimic, simulate, disengage.

Other useful vocabulary items include collocations such as: release energy, provide data, energy is radiated, evolve over time, transfer energy, dissipate energy.

This short article and the accompanying graphics not only give students a clear and focused explanation of how this device works, but also provide a good model for technical descriptions that they might have to write.

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