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Interview

14/06/2018

José Galaz, founder of TsunamiLab

TsunamiLab was designed by José Galaz, industrial civil engineer, during a collaboration between CIGIDEN and Inria Chile. The project has three main goals: generate a useful tool for the community, create quality software and educate citizens through experimentation. José Galaz discusses the genesis and successes of the TsunamiLab, a demo of which will be presented at Futur.e.s 2018.

How the tsunami lab platform was created ?

TsunamiLab  was born after recognizing that education is one of the most effective means for saving people lives in the event of a disaster and that, even though there exists enough scientific knowledge and technology, and that tsunamis have had such a big impact in our history in Chile, today there is no accessible tool that could help teach and study these events with a truly “hands-on” experience such as in a laboratory. For this reason, we created a web platform that can use the power of web browsers and numerical simulations to let people interact with the dynamics of tsunamis from any personal computer. I imagined this when I was a Mathematical Engineer of the PUC, then the first prototype was developed with the support of CIGIDEN and soon later Inria Chile joined to scale the project in what has been a fruitful collaboration since 2016.

How this platform works?

At its core, TsunamiLab solves the Linear Shallow Water Equations, a set of Partial Differential Equations (PDEs) that can represent the propagation of very long surface waves in the deep ocean considering the information of the topography/bathymetry and the complex geometry of the shoreline. This mathematical model usually serves as the first layer in simulation-based tsunami early warning systems such as those from Japan, the United States or Chile. This solver is implemented in WebGL, an open web standard that allows to run computations efficiently using the graphics card (or GPU) of the computer. Finally, we complement the web platform with public information from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to be able to explore historical scenarios and give more contextual data.The fact that it uses an open standard and web technologies allows TsunamiLab to be run on almost any computer by just accessing the website, thus reducing an important barrier between people and the technology. Actually, this flexibility has allowed us to present TsunamiLab to kids and adults in a variety of formats apart from the web platform, such as big touch screens, a hologram and the pool display that we are showing today at Futur.E.S.

Can you give us examples of Tsunami Labs results?

We have been orienting the project to find what would be the best way for teaching about tsunamis with TsunamiLab. In the first year we participated in the “Sixth Biennial on Design” in Chile where we received the “Chile Design” award in the Alert category. Also last year we were awarded with a Special Honourable Mention at the Mathematics of Planet Earth Competition organized by Imaginary . At the same time, we have been able to show TsunamiLab in science fairs and museums and organized workshops for teachers from coastal areas. TsunamiLab was also shown on TV to explain the consequences of an earthquake that happened at the end of 2016.

Do you work with other research centres or with industry?

Cigiden is a interdisciplinary research center on natural disasters in Chile that has enriched our capabilities with expert knowledge on geophysics and direct connections with researchers from more than 5 different universities in Chile in disciplines such as social sciences and humanities and public institutions such as the Chilean Emergency Office (ONEMI). On the other side, Inria Chile aims at developing novel solutions using digital technologies and thus has provided all the technological expertise and experience that is required to implement this project in a way that is usable and scalable at the same time. Also, since Inria Chile is part of Inria, working with them has opened the opportunity to collaborate with french researchers to explore new uses of TsunamiLab that could be good for emergency managers, this is an initiative that has just started.

Do you have plans for the coming months?

In the coming months we want TsunamiLab to be the best tool for learning and teaching about tsunamis in Chile, specially for kids and teachers at schools. For this, we want to create a start-up, spin-off of Inria Chile and Cigiden, that will focus on reaching public schools, specially those in coastal areas, in order to use TsunamiLab in school activities. This way, we want new generations to be more aware of why tsunamis are so hazardous for our country and be able to develop more resiliency to their impact.

Keywords: Tsunami Lab Simulation Futur.e.s Inria Chile

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