Skip to main content
Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend, Tennessee (Tim Bounds/Flickr)

Update: This segment was held for later in the month to accommodate Hurricane Florence coverage.

Hidden in the Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend, Tennessee, is a sophisticated laboratory with a particular mission: to listen and record explosions produced by nuclear testing around the world. The scientific effort that takes place in this curious laboratory will be featured this weekend in a segment on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.

Rich Williams, a seismologist in UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, will explain how data produced by nuclear testing is acquired here in East Tennessee. The segment is set to air at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, September 15.

The caverns, a popular attraction in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, might look like an unusual place to conduct scientific research, but Williams said it’s the perfect spot.

“It is just so quiet there that we can literally hear the earth vibrating from pretty much any point. When North Korea illegally tests their nuclear weapons, we can record the vibration here within seconds,” he said.

The information is sent to the headquarters of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. The Townsend station is part of a network of more than 120 similar laboratories around the world.

“But in all honesty,” said Wiliams, “ours is one of the best ones out there.”

Find your local listing.


Andrea Schneibel (, 865-974-3993)