Around the Pier: Scripps Graduate Student Honored for Research Excellence

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Hao Ye, a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, was selected as the 20th recipient of the Edward A. Frieman Prize for Excellence in Graduate Student Research. This award was established in 1996 to honor Edward A. Frieman, the eighth director of Scripps, on his 70th birthday.

The Frieman Prize is given annually to honor Scripps graduate students who have distinguished themselves in their field as measured by the quality of a publication during the previous year. Ye’s research paper, "Equation-free mechanistic ecosystem forecasting using empirical dynamic modeling,” was published in the March 2015 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study examines how the use of a technique called empirical dynamic modeling, or EDM, improved forecasting for Fraser River sockeye salmon, a highly prized fishery in British Columbia.

Scripps Professor George Sugihara, Ye’s advisor and one the co-authors of the study, describes forecasting sockeye salmon recruitment for Canada’s Fraser River system as “a holy grail for fisheries science,” and noted that Ye’s “somewhat radical” equation-free approach produced excellent forecasts for 2014 salmon returns (made in 2012) while the official models used by Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not produce similarly accurate results. The PNAS editorial staff thought highly of Ye’s work and featured it with a special commentary.

"The bottom-line is that this goes beyond academic importance as described in the PNAS commentary. What is really impressive is that Ye’s model actually works in practice—as witnessed by real-time prediction skill,” said Sugihara, the McQuown Chair Distinguished Professor of Natural Science. “Hao has a keen intellect with broad interests. He never ceases to surprise, and I think this paper and this award are stellar examples.”

Ye credits the Hayao Miyazaki film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for sparking his interest in environmental conservation as a teenager. This animated, post-apocalyptic fantasy tells the story of a princess who must battle an evil ruler’s plans to destroy the forest and its creatures.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the California Institute of Technology, he came to UC San Diego to pursue a master’s degree in psychology. As a UCSD graduate student, Ye says he became “motivated to do research that would have “real-world impact,” an ambition that led him to pursue doctoral studies in biological oceanography at Scripps.

“Scripps Oceanography was a natural fit as a place to do interesting research with environmental implications and that also allowed me to leverage my quantitative background,” he said.

As a Scripps student, Ye has been working on the development of methods to understand and forecast the behaviors of dynamic systems including marine ecosystems, the Earth climate system, and genomics data.

Ye was presented with the Frieman Prize at a Scripps recognition ceremony held on June 12 at the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment.

“I’m very honored and happy to receive the Frieman Prize,” said Ye. “It is always great to get external validation and recognition of one’s work.”

As for his future goals, Ye is expecting to defend his thesis late this summer, after which he plans to continue doing research. “I think we are entering an era of big data and I hope to continue to develop methods to leverage these data, in addition to making associated software available for other scientists and researchers,” he said.

Learn more about the Edward A. Frieman Prize and see a complete list of previous recipients here.

– Brittany Hook

Related Image Gallery: New Sockeye Salmon Forecasts

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