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Hikurangi researchers inspire students in STEM

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Scientists are using their cutting-edge research into Hikurangi Subduction Zone earthquake forecasting to inspire high schoolers into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers.

The CRISiSLab Challenge is an annual event hosted by Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research. Students from across Wellington are challenged to apply their passion for science and technology to crisis management.

Each year, the CRISiSLab Challenge focuses on earthquakes and tsunami and technologies used for assessment and alerting of these hazards, something that the Forecasting future megaquakes on New Zealand’s biggest fault: the Hikurangi Subduction Zone team are experts in.

“The goal of the Challenge is not just about teaching science and technology, it’s about understanding how we can apply those in real-life situations,” said CRISiSLab Research Manager, Dr Marion Tan, “so it’s important for the students to see researchers doing just that”.

Forecasting future megaquakes on New Zealand’s biggest fault: the Hikurangi Subduction Zone is a project led by the University of Otago, which aims to use complex statistical modelling to identify links between seismic swarms, slow-slip events, and major earthquakes.

Two members of the project team, PhD student Jessica Allen and postdoctoral researcher Andrea Perez Silva, both from the University of Otago, attended the Challenge launch day to support the students with getting started and to inspire them with their own journeys in science and technology.

“As a high school student I had little concept of coding and what it could be used for, but now I (happily) spend a large part of my day doing it!” said Allen. “It was awesome to engage with enthusiastic high school students getting a head start in an exciting real world application of coding.”

Allen’s research, supervised by Associate Professor Ting Wang (University of Otago), Professor Mark Bebbington (Massey University) and Dr. Calum Chamberlain (Victoria University of Wellington), focuses on statistical methods to improve the detection of seismic swarms from the Hikurangi Subduction Zone, a key element of the project.

“As researchers we’re always looking for ways to ensure our work is impactful and contributes to making Aotearoa better prepared,” said Project Impact Lead, University of Otago Professor Mark Stirling. “We chose to sponsor and get involved with the CRISiSLab Challenge to ensure more students can come along and learn, get inspired, and critically, take their learnings about Hikurangi Subduction Zone risk back to their schools, whānau, and communities.”

“I had a fantastic time at the CRISiSLab launch day, sharing my research journey,” said Allen. “I was also so impressed with the passion the CRISiSLab team have for educating about hazard research, and all the hard work they put in to make an awesome challenge.”

The students now have seven weeks to create a tsunami alerting device before presenting it to a panel of judges.

The 100 competing students, from 14 schools, will be judged on the success of their product, as well as design and innovation, and presentation. The overall winners of the Challenge win a prized Summer Internship with the Massey University CRISiSLab team.

“We were excited to welcome the Forecasting future megaquakes team to the CRISiSLab Challenge,” said Dr Tan. “It was amazing to see the students engaging with young researchers and hearing how coding rocks!”

20 May 2024

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