Whitman alumnus wins high-profile science award

October 12, 2012

Molly Emmett

David Shelly photo from http://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/articles/10.1038/nj7416-463a
David Shelly

The American Geological Union has awarded research geophysicist David Shelly 00 the 2012 James B. Macelwane Medal.

The award is given “for significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding early career scientist.” The AGU gives up to three of these awards each year to recognize scientist who have an impact on the field within 10 years of receiving their doctorate degrees.

Shelly, recently profiled in the science journal Nature, works for the United States Geophysical Society at the Volcano Science Center in Menlo Park, Calif. He will receive the Macelwane Medal at the AGU conference in San Francisco in December.

Two of Shelly’s colleagues at the USGS nominated him for the esteemed award, noting the research he conducted on subduction-zone tremors in Japan while earning his Ph.D. at Stanford University in the mid-2000s.

Shelly's research in Japan focused on the unclear source of low-frequency tremors beneath the Earth's surface. Using previously untested methods his team found evidence suggesting that these small vibrations originate from some of the same geological processes and fault locations as larger earthquakes. This research was a significant contribution to the field of geophysics, because Shelly and his team members were the first to examine these phenomena and draw conclusions about their origins.

Shelly credited much of his success to mentors who have supported him over the years, including those he had at Whitman. Shelly graduated from Whitman with degrees in mathematics and physics, and he even took a few geology courses during his time at Whitman. From a practical standpoint, he said this foundation was essential.

“I think spending a summer at Whitman doing research in physics and writing a thesis helped tremendously in terms of starting to learn the process of doing research and writing scientific papers,” Shelly said.

Additionally, Shelly said he appreciated the writing skills he gained from his liberal arts education at Whitman, and he noted that the ability to present something in writing is crucial to almost any career field, even those with the primary focus of hands-on research.

 “Whitman helped teach me to write well; this is important since the science you do only really has an impact on the field if you can communicate the results to other scientists (and sometimes the public) effectively.”

By Molly Emmett ’15