USGS geophysicist Elizabeth Cochran, research ecologist Sasha Reed, and research seismologist David Shelly were honored by President Obama on October 14, 2011, with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
“It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers — careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the Nation,” President Obama said.
“That so many of them are also devoting time to mentoring and other forms of community service speaks volumes about their potential for leadership, not only as scientists but as model citizens.”
The Presidential early career awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges, and contribute to the American economy.
Cochran has made important contributions to the understanding of earthquake physics and earthquake triggering, the physical properties and geometry of earthquake fault zones and their evolution after earthquakes, and to the development of a new generation of low-cost earthquake sensors, called the Quake-Catcher Network. This network allows scientists to monitor earthquakes and quantify ground shaking with unprecedented spatial resolution through data gathered from citizen volunteers.
“Dr. Cochran’s work on next generation sensor networks is exactly what the United States needs to help
enable earthquake early warning,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “As was clearly demonstrated by the recent Japanese experience, even a few seconds of warning before an earthquake can reduce the loss of life and property. Dr. Cochran’s innovative research will help make the Nation safer from this natural hazard.”
Reed investigates how ecosystems respond to global change and has added new directions to the fields of biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology. Highlights of Reed’s research include biofuels development in the southwestern United States, climate change and its effects on terrestrial ecosystems, nitrogen deposition, and beetle infestation and its consequences. Reed’s research has transformed the way scientists conceptualize and model ecosystems and has helped provide critical information to decision makers for land management issues.
“We are so proud that the President has honored Dr. Reed, whose research is the epitome of our integrated solutions-oriented approach to problem-solving,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Her innovative work is relevant to the science of renewable energy, ecosystems restoration, climate change, and water supplies, and directly addresses the challenges of today while anticipating those of tomorrow.”
Shelly pioneered ways to detect tectonic tremor, or a bunch of tiny earthquakes strung together, occurring deep within Earth’s crust, below the depth of where damaging earthquakes have occurred in the past and are likely to occur in the future. By precisely locating these clusters of earthquakes, Shelly was the first to determine that they originated on the down-dip extensions of the faults, and are caused by slip on faults rather than the migration of fluids. The previous reigning hypothesis had been that these portions of the faults had moved entirely by the migration of fluids. This information is important in identifying and determining the risk due to hazards like earthquakes and volcanoes and finding ways to build more resilient communities.
“Dr. Shelly’s work lies on the critical frontier of understanding that transition zone between where Earth releases accumulated stress through infrequent, catastrophic large earthquakes versus continuous, slow creep,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “His work will lead to insights on reducing hazards from one of the deadliest form of natural hazards. Furthermore, Dr. Shelly also provides leadership in the field of tectonic tremor by developing and fostering international collaboration, particularly between researchers in the United States and Japan.”
The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers was established by President Clinton in 1996 and are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.