Modeling the Mystery of the Earth’s Movements

By Kacey Gardner, Editorial Assistant

brownellUnderstanding the shape and behavior of our planet is an absolutely classic problem, says Kyle Rocha-Brownell, a double major in physics and computer science.

In fact, says senior Rocha-Brownell, “It’s one of the oldest scientific questions on record.”

In a project funded by an Undergraduate Award for Research and Creativity from the CSU, Chico Provost’s Office, Rocha-Brownell spent the summer writing a computer program to simulate the rotation of Earth’s crust and core—a tool that he hopes could eventually give insight into these age-old questions.

“Although it sounds rather geological, I’m conducting it as a physics project—with a bit of computer science, of course,” he says. “I plan to include a 3-D rendering of the rotations, so that should look pretty cool to even non-scientists.”

Senior Kyle Brownell uses C++ code to model 3-D renderngs of the Earth's rotations.
Senior Kyle Brownell uses C++ code to model 3-D renderings of the Earth’s rotations.

The end result will be a tool that can not only teach students about rotations but also demonstrate to the scientific community the value of a well-designed computer simulation, Rocha-Brownell says.

“We may know that the Earth is fairly round, but what we don’t know about it could still fill volumes,” he says. “If this simulation is able to model the rotation of our planet accurately enough, there is no telling what insights it may give us into some of these mysteries.”

Rocha-Brownell’s project is one of 10 original student projects that were funded by the Provost’s Office for summer 2014. These awards are made available each year during the fall, spring, and summer. Grants for projects undertaken during the fall and spring semesters may be up to $500, while the summer awards may be up to $2,000.

Other summer projects awarded include an examination of the effect of marijuana on rural Northern California economies by journalism student Juniper Rose and research on soil carbon sequestration by agriculture student Quintin Troester with a nonprofit in Costa Rica, among others.

For more information or details about the application process for these awards, visit the honors website or contact the Honors Program office at 530-898-5749 or hnrs@csuchico.edu.

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