Director's Prize Awarded to Geophysics Graduate Student


Bridget Smith, a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, has been awarded the Edward A. Frieman Prize, an annual recognition of excellence in graduate student research.

The Frieman Prize was established in 1996 to celebrate the 70th birthday of Scripps Institution's eighth director, Edward A. Frieman, who led Scripps from 1986 to 1996. The prize is annually awarded to a Scripps graduate student who has published an outstanding research paper in the past 12 months as evaluated by a Scripps faculty committee.
Smith, a fourth-year graduate student, has focused her research on developing a realistic model of stress buildup along the San Andreas Fault system, the most closely watched fault system in California due to its potential for causing earthquakes.

The eighth recipient of the Frieman Prize, Smith was honored for "Coulomb stress accumulation along the San Andreas Fault system," a research paper coauthored by Scripps Professor David Sandwell, her academic advisor. The paper was published in June 2003 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

As described in the paper, Smith and Sandwell developed a new approach to modeling the behavior of large-scale motion along the San Andreas by using a mathematical tool called the Fourier Transform, which allows rapid computer calculations of large amounts of geophysical data. The new three-dimensional faulting model calculates fault motion more than 20 times faster than previous methods and is thus useful in efforts to better understand fault deformation.

By combining this new modeling approach with Global Positioning System (GPS) observations of the San Andreas Fault zone, Smith and Sandwell have been able to model the stress buildup driving earthquakes along the entire North American-Pacific plate boundary.

"The paper was selected because it represents a high level of achievement, and a great leap in modeling with a real-world application, namely the ability to understand and eventually predict earthquakes," said Michael Latz, chair of the faculty evaluation committee. "One of the most impressive parts of the study was that the theory was applied and verified using observations of slow, crustal motion using GPS measurements."

Prior to joining Scripps, Smith graduated from Northern Arizona University with a bachelor's degree in physics and astronomy. She earned the Chair's Scholar distinction, an award offered to one student in the entire physics and astronomy graduating class.

Currently, Smith is a NASA Earth System Science Fellow and previously held a National Science Foundation Fellowship. At Scripps she was the past academic year's vice chair for students and will become chair in the upcoming 2003-2004 academic year.

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