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This Is Probably the World’s Most Beautiful Seismograph

Using different colors of paint and a map of Christchurch, this machine lays down beautiful portraits of New Zealand's deadly earthquakes

Using different colors of paint and a map of Christchurch, this machine lays down beautiful portraits of New Zealand’s deadly earthquakes. Photo: James Boock

New Zealand is one of the world’s foremost hotspots for earthquake activity. In the past year alone, the island nation experienced more than 18,000 earthquakes. Though many of these were small, the region is no stranger to devastating tremblors. In 2011, a series of devastating earthquakes rattled the Christchurch region, on the country’s larger South Island, killing hundreds of people.

Taking such a dark backdrop, of death and destruction at the hands of an unstable planet, Victoria University of Wellington industrial design student James Boock and colleagues built what is probably the world’s most beautiful seismograph, a tool that “creates a transformation of data that is often seen as negative and changes it into a completely different medium that is artistic, physical and uttely unique.”

Dubbed the “Quakescape 3D Fabricator,” the machine uses seismic activity data from the official New Zealand geological monitoring institute and then, through a series of color options, paints the location and size of each earthquake onto a cutout of Christchurch. From grey through red, the different paint colors denote the strength of the shaking, pouring down on to the earthquake’s epicenter.

“art high-tech seismograph, part painting robot,” says FastCo.Design, the Quakescape fabricator is “a small, simple machine that harnesses this horrible, unknowable energy and turns it into a cheerful piece of art. That canvas may flow and drip a bit beyond the realm of practical ‘data viz,’ but it’s aesthetically compelling all on its own.”

More from Smithsonian.com:
Seven Factors That Contribute to the Destructiveness of an Earthquake
Shattered: Christchurch After 10,000 Earthquakes

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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