Nothing can beat the excitement of collecting a singular piece of data, of measuring it delicately, of pronouncing it fit, and extracting its story. One thing an academic program in science must do is communicate science by current example and past history. And Columbia's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory combine to do this very well. Whether we're in the field, at the bench, or in front of a computer, we all seem to feel and draw on the institutional memory here.
You have to keep poking at the earth to learn its secrets. As a seismologist, I do a lot of field work collecting data from earthquakes and explosions. I use these data to model the structure of the upper mantle and crust. A new class of seismic instrumentation has revolutionized the way we do science and has allowed us to develop new insights about the deformation of the lithosphere. We can now put first-class seismometers virtually anywhere to take "seismic photographs" of structures beneath them. For example, in a recent experiment in the Colorado Rockies, we were able to nail down the position of the western edge of the North American craton. We've also been working in the Caucasus, looking at thrust sheet deformation, and in eastern Kazakhstan, at one of the most seismically quiet sites ever found. My research will continue to focus on upper-mantle structures imaged by portable instruments, particularly in zones of large tectonic transitions.