Through this lecture series a dynamic, early career alumni of the IRIS REU Program or RESESS Internship Program will visit the physics, math, computer science and/or geoscience departments at minority serving institutions to deliver a lecture focused on cutting edge research that requires a diverse set of perspectives to solve, and explicit connections to core classroom content students are studying. Lectures open with an overview of the speakers personal career path and conclude with information on geophysics as a possible career, emphasizing the role an internship through IRIS or UNAVCO can play in developing this career path. Our Speaker Series differs from a traditional departmental seminar in that the talks are designed to engage mid-level undergraduate 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. Therefore, we anticipate that this effort will increase the number of physics, math, and computer science majors, especially those from communities traditionally underrepresented in the geosciences, to consider geophysics as a career path and apply to our program.
The calendar of current talks can be found here.
Initially, I had wanted to pursue a degree in Petroleum Engineering, because I had heard that there was some decent money to be made in the field. However, after talking to many professionals employed in the oil and gas industry (mainly geoscientists), I was eventually persuaded to alter my career paths and pursue a degree in geosciences. Fast forward a couple years, and I found myself experiencing geophysics for the first time ever, via the Africa Array Field School (a 3-week field course jointly hosted by Penn State and the University of the Witswatersrand). The purpose of the field school was to expose students to different geophysical methods including seismic, magnetic, electromagnetic, resistivity, and gravity. The method that I really enjoyed the most was seismic, as I enjoyed swinging a 20 lb sledgehammer to collect data. I was really fascinated by how vibrations and waves velocities could be used to point out features in the subsurface. The following summer, I saw myself at the University of Maryland doing a very seismology focused internship with IRIS. It was not as physical as swinging a hammer all day to collect data, but the different applications of seismology to the real world was still awesome to learn.
I am now at the University of Maryland pursuing a Master’s degree in Geology (specializing in Geophysics, more specifically Seismology). My thesis involves using active-source seismology to characterize a firn aquifer in Southeastern Greenland. We are using P-wave and S-wave velocities to help constrain our data to better quantify the amount of water in the aquifer, and gauge how much water it could potentially contribute to the global sea level. When I initiated my college careers, I did not even consider pursuing a career in geology, more so, geophysics. But now, I don’t see myself doing anything else.
As a physics major who was interested in optics and enjoyed the outdoors, I found myself searching for ways to combine the two. That’s when I discovered the IRIS internship, where I was first introduced to the field of seismology and had the opportunity to do fieldwork – I was hooked! From this experience, I learned that the Earth is actually a large-scale, extremely complex optics experiment. Just like physical optics, the wave equation describes acoustic waves traveling through the earth after an earthquake. In contrast to pure physics, which has been around for centuries, the fields of seismology and geophysics are young, and therefore even the most cutting-edge research questions are still within grasp for an undergraduate student.
Seismology is the perfect mix of complex wave mechanics, high performance computing, and fieldwork. Geophysicists travel the world to exotic places deploying instruments to monitor Earth’s physical processes such as volcanoes, active faults, and even glaciers. For my current research, I study seismic waves that travel through Earth’s mantle and are recorded by seismometers on the seafloor. We use these signals to create images of Earth’s mantle miles below the surface, similar to a CAT scan, to better understand the elastic properties and dynamic processes of Earth’s tectonic plates and the underlying asthenosphere. My experiences as an IRIS and RESESS intern were crucial in my decision to pursue a PhD in the Earth Sciences. If you enjoy physics and computer programming and are excited by the idea of working outdoors, then geophysics might be for you!
New York City College of Technology
University of Texas at El Paso
We are booking talks now. To schedule a speaker at your institution please contact
Michael Hubenthal at email@example.com or 607-777-4612
For me, Earth Science is the perfect way to apply what I've learned about physics and waves to really make a difference in the world. I started as Physics Bachelors student, and was blown away by a summer internship with IRIS. Since then, I worked for a year with the USGS installing seismometers and monitoring Twitter, and now study Seismology as a graduate student. We've learned that the Earth is constantly humming with tiny vibrations from the oceans and wind, and my research uses those tiny vibrations to watch waves propagate across a city or even the entire U.S. The research is all based on the basic wave equation, but the challenge is learning how to extract those tiny signals and turn them into useful maps. We can measure how those waves are affected by local geology, and where they are focused or amplified. If an earthquake hits here on the San Andreas in California, those waves will act just the same, and I hope to someday use my technique to help improve building codes for a city.
Geophysics research is a great balance between theory, computations and hands on field work. I'm also working with a physics LIGO team, who study Gravity waves from outer space, to install seismometers deep in a mine in South Dakota. For them, the Earth vibrations that I call data are a source of instrument noise, and we hope to work together to better understand those signals. Traveling a mile underground is quite an experience, and lets me work with geologists and mining professionals who really know what they're doing.
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!
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.
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.
My interests in earthquake research began when I was in high school. I wanted to understand the risk and hazard after a big earthquake, and was driven to learn more about the earths interior in relation to earthquake processes. I began my experience in seismology shortly after graduating from high school in 2010 when I began working in the Seismology/Geophysics Lab at Miami University in Ohio. I spent my undergraduate career balancing my research in seismology and geophysics while working towards a Bachelors of Science in Geology. In 2012, I was an intern at the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and spent my summer working under Dr. Michael Brudzinski to analyze the spatial and temporal patterns in the Oaxacan Segment of the Middle American Subduction Zone. The internship opportunity let me work alongside other undergraduates and scientists who harbored the same passion as I did while using a variety of skill sets ( mathematics, computer programming, physics,etc). This experience solidified my drive of becoming a seismologist. I continued to work in the Geophysics/Seismology Lab until graduating in May 2014.
I now work as a Senior Analyst at the Oklahoma Geological Survey. I analyze and conduct seismology research that pertains to the uptick in earthquake activity that has been prevalent to Oklahoma in recent years. I look at earthquake frequency, work around the clock when a moderately big earthquake occurs in the state, and collaborate and consult with respective agencies and industries to figure out a way to mitigate earthquake activity. Each day is an unpredictable day at work, since we cannot predict earthquakes.Within the year of 2016, there have been two magnitude earthquakes greater than 5.0, with the most recent one on September 3rd, being a 5.8Mw in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Earthquakes in Oklahoma are a major issue, due to the dramatic increase in recent years, (frequency and magnitude related) and is currently a major topic of discussion in the seismologic world.
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.
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.