Position: Science, Mathematics and Technology Teacher Fellow 2007, Field: Physics, Organisation: Department of Geological Sciences, University of Canterbury.

Keith Machin is a secondary school science teacher who spent 2007 at the University of Canterbury, researching how physics is being used to explore what is going on underground, out of sight.

Keith is an experienced physics teacher with an interest in geology. As a Teacher Fellow, he is spending a year away from school, learning about applications of physics in the ‘real world’ of geological research. When he returns to the classroom, he’ll be able to give his students an exciting and relevant context in which to learn about physics.

What kind of work is he doing?

Keith is concentrating on ways to explore what is going on underneath the ground. One of his first experiences was in the South Island, helping visiting Swiss scientists study the Alpine Fault. Holes were drilled for explosives, and when the explosives were set off, a multi-channel seismograph recorded the shock waves. Data was used to give a picture of hidden rock structures.

Keith has also used ground penetrating radar to find smaller, hidden, underground structures. This has taken him into the world of archaeological sites and cemeteries. Ground penetrating radar makes it possible to find graves that have become hidden, perhaps because headstones have been lost, leaving no evidence on the surface. The method works without having to disturb the burials by digging to search for them.

There are other techniques to experience – Keith plans to visit coal mines and oil fields to find out how seismic exploration is used to locate geological structures that may contain mineral resources. One technique he will look at is called downhole logging, where measuring instruments are lowered into the ground behind a drill.

Keith also hopes to discover more about the ocean floor around New Zealand, using geophysical data obtained from the Research Vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer during a voyage from Antarctica to New Zealand.

This article is based on information current in 2007.

    Published 21 July 2007