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Research compares ‘Shoe celebrations to earthquakes

While Buckeye fans at the University of Phoenix Stadium might have been silent during Ohio State’s ill-fated performance in the Fiesta Bowl, the student section back at Ohio Stadium is generally a place of high energy on gameday, with fan excitement reaching seismic proportions.

The jumping and cheering of fans has not only inspired the football team, but can teach students about geology. Researchers put sensors in Ohio Stadium in the fall of 2016 and measured how much fans “shake the ‘Shoe” during football games.

“Very few people who go to Ohio State experience an earthquake,” said Derek Sawyer, project leader and assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences.  “But, many of them have experienced the shaking that goes on at Ohio Stadium.”

The project, dubbed “FanQuakes,” is a collaboration with OSU’s School of Earth Sciences, Miami University and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Sawyer and his team put seismometers, the same devices used to record earthquakes, on the north and south ends of the ‘Shoe to record the fans’ vibrations underneath the stands. Researchers collected data from five home games.

“If someone has never felt an earthquake before, it’s really hard to wrap your head around as to how serious that is,” said Wendy Panero, associate professor of earth sciences. “But being able to think back, ‘I was actually at that football game, and I could feel the energy under my feet,’ our hope is that we can start to help students get a better intuitive sense of what that means.”

Sawyer, Panero and assistant professor Ann Cook will use the data as a teaching tool for undergraduate students for topics such as earthquakes, and the way energy waves travel.

During the offseason, they will develop curricular materials, exercises and potentially a website for the data.

Researchers created the “FanQuakes Magnitude Scale” to convert the energy that is distributed from the fans’ movement into measurements used for earthquakes, Sawyer said.

The largest “fan quake” to date, a magnitude of 5.79, took place when Curtis Samuel scored the game-winning touchdown during the Michigan game.

Several other moments in that game also beat the previous record, which was set during Samuel’s 75-yard touchdown catch in the Nebraska game on Nov. 5.  

In addition to rousing plays, early results show that music affects the size of the quakes.

“The band is playing with a beat, and people start jumping with the beat of the band,” Panero said.

Sawyer explained that the band “helps everyone jump in unison, and that unified jumping helps create a larger fan quake.”

Data from the football fan quakes will not lead to new discoveries. However, researchers are hopeful it will lead to something even better.

“We’re not going to learn anything new about the Earth,” Sawyer said. “But we are going to be able to inspire future scientists, or inform students here at Ohio State in an exciting way.”

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