Author: Szymon Szymanski, MSci Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen

Project: Are there any earthquakes in North East Scotland?

Supervisor: Amy Gilligan, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen

Hello! I’m currently in my 5th year studying for an MSci in Biological Sciences. So far my research experience has been in genetics, and how it influences the behaviour of various animals – I worked with human and primate samples, and now I’m working with honeybees. In the summer just after my 4th year, I was looking for a placement to gain more experience and enhance my CV. Unfortunately, lack of funding was a big obstacle – I had to turn down a few offers, as taking time to work on a project with no income would have been very difficult in my situation.

Thankfully, QUADRAT offered me a fully funded placement. Another benefit is that my project – ‘Are there any earthquakes in Eastern Scotland?’ – is quite different from my degree discipline. Initially, I was nervous I would not do well, but I really enjoyed the change of exploring a different area of science! While undertaking the placement, I spent most of my time working flexibly from home to analyse seismic data, although working on campus was also an option. I also took a few days to visit various sites across Scotland to help uninstall field seismometers.

The goal of the project is to identify any previously unknown earthquakes in Eastern Scotland since Western Scotland is relatively seismically active, but in the eastern part of the country, few events have ever been recorded. Before I joined the project, and after the seismometers were uninstalled, over a year of measurements had accumulated. I used various machine learning-based tools in Python to analyse these and identify any signals that could be a potential earthquake. I had some experience using programming languages before starting the placement, but I had never used any machine learning tools, and my knowledge of Python was quite basic. In the end, I found both the programming language and the tools easy to use and I got some interesting results!

The placement allowed me to improve my analysis and programming skills and made me more aware of general data management. I really value my new experience in machine learning since it’s a dynamic field now and it is being introduced into many new areas of science. I also got to meet numerous wonderful students and researchers. I was happy to experience working in a research environment again, and at the end of the project, I got to prepare a poster on my findings, which was later presented at a conference. Overall, I feel that the skills I gained during the placement are going to be helpful in whatever discipline I choose to go into in the future. Although my fieldwork as part of the project was only a few days I found it really enjoyable to travel and work outside – the countryside sights were great too!

View one of the seismometer sites towards the Tay Estuary