Through this lecture series a dynamic, early career alumni of the IRIS REU Program or RESESS Internship Program will visit the physics department at an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) or a predominately Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) to deliver lectures focused on cutting edge research with explicit connections to core physics content. The lectures will conclude with information on geophysics as a possible career option for physics majors emphasizing the role an internship through IRIS or UNAVCO can play in developing this career path. This series differs from a traditional departmental seminar series in that it is designed to engage mid-level undergraduate physics students, rather than a pure research talk largely aimed at the faculty in the department. Since this Speakers Series reaches out to students specifically, our speakers are alumni of our internship program that early career scientists or PhD students (see our current and past speakers). All lectures and travel to the lecture site are provided free of charge through funding provided by the National Science Foundation the IRIS Consortium and UNAVCO.
When recruiting potential interns to our summer program, we have consistently found that personal encouragement from faculty is an extremely important factor for students as they consider applying. We have also found this effect to be especially pronounced when attracting minority applicants to the program. In effort to increase the number of minority applications we receive annually we have developed this special lecture series designed to extend a personal invitation to physics majors at HBCU or HSI to consider geophysics as a career path.
The calendar of current talks can be found here.
Have you ever considered being a seismologist?
My personal journey towards a career in seismology began as a physics major at the University of Wisconsin. There I gained exposure to the field of seismology and had an opportunity to participate in research with my academic advisor. However, my horizons and opportunities were expanded even further after being accepted into the IRIS Undergraduate Internship Program to conduct seismological research during the summer of my sophomore year.
Non-volcanic tremor is a weak, extended duration seismic signal observed episodically on some major faults, often in conjunction with slow slip events. Such tremor may hold the key to understanding fundamental processes at the deep roots of faults, and could signal times of accelerated slip and hence increased seismic hazard. Since the discovery of deep, non-volcanic tremor many studies have attempted to locate it and understand its origin; however, tremor has proven difficult to study due to the lack of impulsive wave arrivals, such as those used to locate and constrain the mechanism of ordinary earthquakes. My current work at Cal-tech focuses on extracting low frequency earthquakes from Non-volcanic tremor in order to gain a precise idea of the mechanics of tremor and slow slip on faults prone to large ruptures.
Have you ever considered being a seismologist?
I was first introduced to geophysics during a Seismic Exploration class my junior year at University of Oklahoma. I was intrigued with how one could use physical properties, which can be directly measured, to understand the subsurface. In the summer of 2010, I was able to add to this classroom experience through a summer internship with the United States Geological Survey seismic hazard team. During the summer we collected data to image sediments near the New Madrid seismic zone. This data would ultimately allow the team to better understand the possible impacts of future earthquakes in that region.
Why study geophysics? Because there are numerous career opportunities for geophysicists! Facets of geophysics are for everyone... from the environmental and geotechnical engineering to academic research and the energy industry career opportunities abound. Geophysics is a dynamic, young science that is very cutting edge; I would say more cutting edge than other science in terms of how the average scientist gets their hand on top notch software and data. If you are inclined to math, physics, computer science, then there is a place for you in geophysics.
Have you ever considered being a seismologist?
As a Math major I loved the beauty of high level Mathematics but struggled to see the application. In Physics I found a relevant and tangible application to the beauty of Mathematics. However, I wanted to apply my new craft to a field that would affect people’s day to day lives. When I stumbled across exploration seismology as an undergraduate student, it satisfied the ‘relevant and tangible’ criteria with an added bonus: the opportunity to blow stuff up. Now working as a professional Geophysicist, I sometimes miss the dusty days in the field. However, the science has become more challenging and the application of Physics more crucial. In some ways the Earth has itself become the ultimate non-linear problem, were fundamental wave theory is key to hydrocarbon exploration and drilling safety.
The American Petroleum Institute estimates that The Gulf of Mexico accounts for 30 percent of domestic oil production. However, this region also presents unique challenges for Geophysicists due to the pervasive presence of salt. Basic seismic reflection theory assumes a normal incidence ray path from source to receiver. However, salt, in addition to having a much higher acoustic velocity than sediment, deforms plastically into pillow-like structures in the subsurface. This combination of high acoustic velocity contrast and irregular deformation geometry causes seismic energy to be diffracted away from receivers, creating areas of poor seismic illumination called “shadow zones”. The application of basic wave theory is crucial to understanding where shadow zones occur and in determining the robustness of a seismic reflection interpretation. A robust seismic reflection interpretation facilitates an accurate Earth model which becomes the basis for well design and planning. In the end, it’s the understanding of fundamental Physics that makes it possible to find and safely extract the hydrocarbons we rely on every day.
We are booking talks now. To schedule a speaker at your institution please contact
Michael Hubenthal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-777-4612
Opening up Earth with geophysics and seismology
Have you ever looked at the picture of Earth’s glowing, molten interior and wondered – “How do they know that is what it looks like?” Well, the answer is seismology. As an undergraduate physics student at Morgan State University, participating in research on coal samples and meteorites I had not given any thought to a career involving seismology. However, as graduation drew closer, I wondered what careers I could pursue with a physics degree. I was advised to consider geophysics and applied to and was accepted into the he IRIS Undergraduate Internship program. That first foray into seismology “opened up the world to me” by giving me the opportunity to use seismic tomography to image mantle upwellings 8-10 km below the surface (5-7 miles) and propose mechanisms for magma delivery.
Now as a geophysicist for a major oil company, I create images of Earth’s interior from the surface 5 to 6 km (tens of thousands of feet). We generate three-dimensional (3-D) images of buried salt domes, turbidite sand flows, underwater river channels and prehistoric carbonate reefs. These critical images allow us to thread drill pipe thousands of feet to recover the hydrocarbons that fuel our lives and the economy. Seismology provides the x-ray vision to help us ‘see’ the prize buried deep in the subsurface and even miles below the seafloor. Advances in seismic research, like time-lapse (4-D) seismic and continuous seismic monitoring, allow us to record real-time changes in fluid content in the subsurface. This is truly applied physics!
Stephen Hernendez - 2009 IRIS and RESESS Internship Alumnus, NSF Graduate Research Fellow, & PhD Student at UC Santa Cruz, Dept. of Earth & Planetary Science
Waves in Solids: How to Use Math and Physics to Travel the World
Applying the principles of physics to study our Earth was not something I went into college thinking I wanted to do. As a student pursuing a degree in mathematics, it was by shear accident that I was able to land a work-study office 'go-fer' position in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso. While there, I was exposed to geophysics, learned more of differing faculty's research interests and projects, and was eventually recruited to participate in ongoing work. What an initial project it was! From this maiden voyage into seismological research, I learned a little about how to answer the question “What is a geophysicist?” I learned about our role in abetting national security. I learned of the rigorous mathematical and computational methods employed, and the wider social welfare aspects the field is capable of addressing. After writing an abstract for the first time, and later designing and presenting my first poster, I knew that I wanted to continue within this discipline.
Seismology is the study of the propagation of longitudinal and transverse waves through a solid medium, namely, planet Earth. How do scientists know the earth has a liquid outer core? Was that earthquake in North Korea an earthquake or a clandestine nuclear explosion? How will the next great oil reserve be discovered? These and other questions are part of the realm of problems relevant to seismological interrogation. As a relatively young science, seismology uses a mixture of physics, applied mathematics, and digital signal processing to answer questions about earthquakes, the structure of planetary bodies, and other processes. As an example of ongoing applied research in seismology, I will discuss the phenomenon of slow earthquakes off the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, in northwestern Costa Rica. Slow earthquakes have recently been implicated as potential precursors to large destructive events. Please visit as I discuss exciting career and travel opportunities (e.g., Africa, the South Pole) in geophysics.
More on Stephen's Webpage