Student research examines how we can generate useful energy from earthquakes

Research assistant Elliot Spender from the Department of Physics and Astronomy has been featured by PhysicsWorld discussing how we could potentially harness the power of earthquakes in order to generate useful energy.

The piece discusses how, in terms of their impact on humans, earthquakes are rightly considered to be threatening and destructive events. In principle, however, something useful could come out of the Earth's shaking – the generation of electricity using a magnet inside a coil. As the coil flexes with the shaking of tectonic plates, it is subjected to a changing magnetic field, which generates a current in the coil.

In a recent video, which is available on the website, Elliot calculates how much energy could have been generated in this way during the Kobe earthquake of 1995, which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale (or 6.9 on the moment magnitude scale). He then speculates how this energy could be put to use in a city such as San Francisco.

This is one of a collection of videos based on student projects from the University's Physics Special Topics course, in which students use their physics knowledge to define and answer a quirky or unusual research question. The videos are part of PhysicsWorld's 100 Second Science series.

Elliott said: "Whilst much more research would be needed to fully apply my idea, the purpose of my paper was to illustrate that there are methods of adapting to events that are usually considered destructive, such as an earthquake, to provide something constructive."

Recent Physics Special Topics papers have covered a diverse array of topics, including helping to work out who the most powerful superhero is to examining the feasibility of building photon torpedoes in the Star Trek universe.


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