Scripps Student Spotlight: Jeremy Wing Ching Wong

PhD student researches the mechanisms behind earthquakes in order to understand their origins and effects

In his first year as a PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Jeremy Wing Ching Wong is studying geophysics—more specifically, seismology. Wong was born and raised in Hong Kong, and earned his bachelor’s degree in earth system sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, before moving to San Diego to pursue graduate studies. He currently works under the supervision of Scripps geophysicist Wenyuan Fan and University of Munich seismologist Alice-Agnes Gabriel. 


explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Jeremy Wing Ching Wong: The reasons I chose Scripps are multifold. First, the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at Scripps is a renowned research institute with a long history of devotion to excellence in geophysical research, alongside state-of-the-art instrumental development. It is also a small and intimate institute with close relationships among students and professors. Second, Scripps has offered me the opportunity to work on a (much desired) project with my two favorite professors in my study. Third, it is simply beautiful with the amazing beach along Scripps and the old-fashioned wooden office at IGPP.


en: What are you researching at Scripps?

JWCW: I am studying earthquake source physics in order to address the following fundamental questions: Why and how does an earthquake start? How does the rupture evolve during an earthquake? What factors control the size and the rupture style of an earthquake? 

My research uses the observables, such as seismic and tsunami data to constrain the earthquake model, and the large-scale numerical methods to validate and simulate the complex interplay of stress and strain at the plate boundaries. Currently, I am studying the mechanism behind the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake and tsunami—one of the largest and most destructive earthquakes by far. 


en: How did you become interested in science and your field of study?

JWCW: I have always been interested in both physics and geography since I was in high school. Earth science fulfills my curiosity in both subjects, and geoscience offers field studies that embrace the wilderness and beauty of nature. Also, I enjoy the large uncertainties encountered in geophysics, as most of the geophysical problems are literally too deep to measure directly. Quantifying these uncertainties and converting them to a useful understanding can lead to the rapid development of new mathematical and computational techniques and methods. 


en: What’s life like as a Scripps student? Describe a typical day.

Inside IGPP
IGPP's student office. Photo: Wong

JWCW: I wake up in UC San Diego’s graduate housing and begin with a nice homemade mocha. Then, I get on a bike and ride across the main campus. I cruise along La Jolla Shores Drive as the stunning overview of Scripps and La Jolla Shores casts into my view. 

My office study starts with a pastry and another coffee offered by IGPP, where I have great chats with other members of my cohort and professors. I then have classes at the end of the hallway in the Munk building, where I am often distracted by the visiting whales, dolphins, and surfers near Scripps Pier. The day of work either ends with a nice drink or some climbing with my fellow classmates. 


en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work?

JWCW: My work involves two distinctive subfields in seismology—namely, observational seismology driven by observations, and computational seismology largely driven by numerical simulation. My current work focuses on developing a novel technique to bridge these two subfields by utilizing state-of-the-art supercomputing facilities. We hope such novel techniques can shed insight on both earthquake-source physics puzzles and rapid response to earthquake hazard assessments.


en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way?

JWCW: I do not have a specific role model, but I have had a lot of amazing mentors and teachers who have inspired and encouraged me along the way. Conducting my doctoral study right after obtaining my bachelor’s degree was out of my original plan. Nevertheless, my professors and parents have motivated and supported me in continuing my enthusiasm in geophysics. The student-oriented teaching and mentoring that I have received have also inspired and humbled me, and one day I hope to be someone who inspires new generations and supports the community.


en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student?

JWCW: Being an international student is not an easy task, not to mention that it is my first time studying abroad. It is both a physical and mental burden to adapt to my new living situation and graduate study independently. However, I am very lucky to have such a supportive cohort at Scripps that hangs out, shares our lives together, and makes everything much easier. 


en: What are your plans post-Scripps?

JWCW: I wish to become a seismologist and continue pursuing my interest and enthusiasm for earthquake research in academia. I envision that my research efforts could lead to a better understanding of earthquake mechanics and help alleviate the related hazards.

You can find Wong on Twitter at @Jeremy_seismo.

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