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Suzan van der Lee Receives NSF CAREER Award

February 4, 2013

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences proudly announces that assistant professor Suzan van der Lee has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation, the agency's most prestigious award for new faculty members.

Van der Lee's research scrutinizes field and permanent-network seismic data to unravel some of the dynamics of solid Earth. After an earthquake, the entire Earth shakes imperceptibly. For example, the central United States slowly swayed about two centimeters after the Sumatra-Andaman Islands tsunami earthquake in 2004. The size, shape and especially the timing of such seismic waves are not only determined by the earthquake source but also by the structures in the Earth's interior. Van der Lee records such seismic waves and "translates" the records into images of the Earth's interior structures. In a sense, Van der Lee uses the seismic waves to remotely sense the Earth's interior, much like making CAT scans and ultrasound images.

Van der Lee received a CAREER award for her proposal "Estimating Temperature and Water Content of the North American Mantle from Geophysical Observations." She will use the award to investigate the amount, whereabouts and role of hydrogen in the Earth's upper mantle. Hydrogen, even if present in fractions of a percent, significantly affects the mantle's viscosity and thus the flow patterns of mantle rocks. Because the mantle's hydrogen content is very hard to estimate, Van der Lee will first develop a new method for the simultaneous analysis of different types of seismic data, which should facilitate the search for hydrogen atoms buried hundreds of kilometers below the Earth's surface. --Source: NU Press Room

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