Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego has welcomed seven new faculty members to its academic ranks. The scientists bring a wealth of expertise in fields including geophysics, biological oceanography, seismology, hydrology, marine ecology, and more.
The two newest hires, assistant professors Colleen Petrik and Vashan Wright, joined Scripps this summer for the 2021-2022 academic year, which officially begins Sept. 20. Five other new faculty members—Simone Baumann-Pickering, Moira Décima, Wenyuan Fan, Morgan Levy, and David May—started their positions during the previous academic year, but have largely been working remotely due to the pandemic.
Now, thanks to the university’s Return to Learn program, the majority of courses for this academic year will be conducted in person within indoor and outdoor classrooms. The plan requires that all students, faculty and staff are vaccinated against COVID-19, complete a daily symptom and exposure screening, and wear masks—all part of a multi-layered approach to ensure campus safety.
“As we return to campus, I look forward to welcoming Scripps Oceanography’s new faculty members and seeing the inspiring ways in which they serve our students,” said Scripps Director Margaret Leinen. “The world needs science-based solutions now more than ever, and these talented faculty will help support our efforts to understand and protect the planet through their research, teaching, and mentorship.”
Learn more about our new faculty members and what they are most looking forward to at Scripps in the profiles below.
Colleen Petrik, Assistant Professor, Integrative Oceanography Division
Colleen Petrik is a biological oceanographer who examines how the physical marine environment affects the ecology of zooplankton and commercially important fish and invertebrate species. She is especially interested in the effects of climate variability and climate change on these relationships. Petrik uses coupled numerical models that relate the physiology and behavior of individual organisms to population and ecosystem dynamics. The goal of her research is to understand the fundamental biological-physical mechanisms controlling marine ecosystems, providing a sound scientific basis to inform decisions in conservation and management. Her work spans all time and space scales, from modeling close-range predator-prey interactions to simulating how different climate change scenarios will impact all fishes in the global ocean over the next 100 years. Petrik joined Scripps in 2021 and is also a co-lead of the NOAA Climate Program Office's Marine Ecosystems Task Force. She is also a co-coordinator of the Fisheries and Marine Ecosystems Model Intercomparison project. She holds a PhD in biological oceanography from the MIT-WHOI Joint Program and a BS degree in marine science and biology from the University of Miami.
“I am overjoyed to be a member of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a leader in the ocean, earth, and atmospheric sciences that attracts extraordinary students,” said Petrik. “There are so many incredibly talented faculty across such varied subdisciplines with whom I can discuss research ideas. The expertise combined with the infrastructure for computing, sampling technology, and field and laboratory observations make me feel like the possibilities for exciting research (and learning really cool things) are limitless.”
Vashan Wright, Assistant Professor, Geosciences Research Division
Vashan Wright is a controlled-source geophysicist and rock physicist who quantifies the effects of tectonism, fluid flow, and climate change on granular media—collections of macroscopic particles such as sand, gravel, and soils. To conduct this research, he examines granular media using x-ray microscopic techniques, cores, seismic reflection and refraction profiles, and aerial photography. He often integrates these observations with computer models to identify and characterize fault systems, constrain paleoseismicity, understand the roles that grains play in controlling and recording seismicity, and study earthquake-triggered geohazards. Recently he began using seismic velocities to explore the subsurface of Mars, aiming to determine if, where, and in what form water and calcite cement exist on the red planet. Prior to joining Scripps in 2021, Wright was a postdoctoral investigator at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. Wright holds a PhD in geophysics from Southern Methodist University and a BS degree in geology from Calvin University.
“I am most looking forward to working with and learning from other professors, research staff, students, and the administrative staff,” said Wright, who now leads the Scripps Tectonorockphysics Lab (STRPL, pronounced Stripple). “I am also looking forward to beating everyone at ping pong.”
Simone Baumann-Pickering, Associate Professor, Marine Physical Laboratory
Biological oceanographer Simone Baumann-Pickering seeks to understand the natural behavior of marine mammals in comparison to human-induced behavior using underwater acoustic recorders and other instruments. She is interested in studying the basic ecology of whales and dolphins to fill in some of the missing pieces related to their geographic distribution, habitat preference, foraging, or population trends. A key interest is how threats from human activities—such as fishing, noise pollution, and global warming—alter the marine system and how these top predators adapt to changes in their environment. Much of her work focuses on toothed whales, including the elusive beaked whale species. Baumann-Pickering leads the Scripps Acoustic Ecology Laboratory, a group of researchers working to contribute to the management and conservation of marine mammals and their ecosystem. Prior to her faculty appointment in late 2020, Baumann-Pickering held positions at Scripps as an associate research biologist, postdoctoral researcher, and graduate research assistant. She earned a doctorate of natural sciences (equivalent of a PhD) at Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in Germany, where she also earned master’s and bachelor’s degree equivalents.
“I am excited to move into this new role at Scripps Oceanography and hope to continue the inspiring work with the many talented colleagues and students,” said Baumann-Pickering. “I am looking forward to expanding into new research avenues, focusing even more on management and conservation solutions.”
Moira Décima, Assistant Professor and Curator of the Pelagic Invertebrate Collection, Integrative Oceanography Division
As a zooplankton ecologist, Moira Décima’s research focuses on processes that determine energy fluxes, shape community and trophic structure, and affect carbon cycling within the plankton. Her work emphasizes environmental variability and climate change effects on zooplankton communities. Decima uses a multi-pronged approach that relies on sea-going methods and laboratory experiments, and she consolidates field and lab results using conceptual and numerical models. Prior to joining Scripps in 2020, Decima worked at the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere Research in Wellington, New Zealand, where her research focused on the ecology of salps and their effects on carbon export, and zooplankton composition and trophic dynamics in the Southern Ocean. Décima holds a PhD in oceanography and a master’s in marine biology, both from Scripps. She attended UC Santa Cruz for undergraduate studies, earning a BA in marine biology and a BS in molecular, cellular and developmental biology.
“I look forward to conducting cutting-edge oceanographic research as well as contributing to a vibrant and inclusive academic environment here at Scripps,” said Décima.
Wenyuan Fan, Assistant Professor, Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics
Wenyuan Fan is an observational seismologist who uses seismic records collected both onshore and offshore to study the earth and seismic sources. He is interested in earthquake rupture propagation, earthquake interaction and triggering processes, and the mechanisms of environmental seismic sources such as landslides and glacial quakes. His research also includes array seismology, marine geophysics, earthquake source kinematic and dynamic processes, waveform modeling, and ocean and solid earth interaction. Prior to joining Scripps in 2020, Fan worked at Florida State University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He holds a PhD in geophysics from Scripps Oceanography as well as master’s and bachelor’s degrees in geophysics from Peking University.
“I am glad to be back—Scripps is a very special place for me,” said Fan. “I look forward to working with everyone!”
Morgan Levy, Assistant Professor, Climate, Atmospheric Science and Physical Oceanography
Morgan Levy is an environmental scientist with a split appointment between Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) at UC San Diego. She aims to do data-driven, policy-relevant research that connects climate to environmental and human health through water cycle processes. Levy’s research focuses on understanding interactions among hydroclimate, terrestrial water systems, and environmental and human health at local to global scales. Her areas of expertise include physical hydrology and ecohydrology; environmental and earth system science; and applied statistics, including spatiotemporal data analysis and modeling. Prior to her faculty appointment in 2020, Levy worked at UC San Diego’s GPS as a postdoctoral scholar and at UC Berkeley in the Environmental Health Sciences Division of the School of Public Health. She holds a PhD and MS in energy and resources, and an MA in statistics, from UC Berkeley.
“The joint appointment is a great fit or me because GPS has a teaching focus on data analytics and geographic information systems (GIS), while Scripps has a focus on the physical sciences, which gives me an opportunity to do collaborative research, teach and recruit students and postdocs across both areas,” said Levy.
Dave May, Associate Professor, Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics
Dave May is a theoretical geophysicist whose research focuses on the development of novel computational methods and software to study physical processes relevant to the earth sciences. He develops scalable, efficient algorithms and software which exploit large-scale, massively parallel, high-performance computing facilities and modern computational hardware. His research lives at the intersection of the earth sciences, mathematics, and computer science. May uses modeling to quantify the variability of the thermal structure within subduction zones. Prior to joining Scripps in 2020, May was a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford and an oberassistent (equivalent to an assistant professor) at ETH Zurich. May received a BSc in mathematics, a BE in mechanical engineering, and a PhD in applied mathematics from Monash University in Australia.
“In conjunction with data-rich observations, computation and simulation provide a means to understand the physics governing the dynamics of the solid earth,” said May. “At Scripps I will develop new data-driven methodologies which will provide robust evaluation of uncertainties and variability of physics-based simulations and enable both rapid (near real time) predictive and retrodictive capabilities.”
In addition to the most recent appointments, Scripps hired three new faculty in late 2019. These faculty members are:
- Assistant Professor Nicholas Lutsko, a climate scientist with a general focus on understanding the basic physics of the climate system and more focused areas of interest including climate sensitivity, temperature variability, heat stress, monsoons, and solar geoengineering;
- Associate Professor Matthias Morzfeld, a geophysicist who creates new mathematics and computational tools and works towards their successful application across the earth sciences;
- Professor Eugene “Geno” Pawlak, a mechanical engineer with a joint appointment between Scripps and the Jacobs School of Engineering in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) who studies coastal ocean physical processes including stratified flows, estuaries, and physics in coral reefs.
Scripps welcomed faculty members Sarah Aarons, Julia Diaz, Dovi Kacev, and Amina Schartup to campus earlier in 2019.
- This article has been updated to include Simone Baumann-Pickering among the new faculty hires for the 2020-2021 academic year.
About Scripps Oceanography
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.
About UC San Diego
At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at ucsd.edu.