Seismologist Michael E. Wysession honored for contributions to geosciences education

May 24, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO -- For his exceptional leadership in geosciences education and his devotion to public understanding of earthquakes and their impact on society, the Seismological Society of America (SSA) will present Michael E. Wysession with the 2016 Frank Press Public Service Award at its annual meeting held 18-20 April 2017 in Denver, Colorado.

Wysession is a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. In his nomination for the Press award, his colleagues praised the far-reaching impact of his work on Earth and space sciences education from K-12 to university faculty training.

One of his most notable roles in this field came as chair of the team that wrote the geosciences portions of the 2013 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As these standards are adopted by states across the U.S., they will for the first time bring seismology and its geophysical foundations into the high school curriculum at a national level. The standards were informed by the National Science Foundation's Earth Science Literacy Initiative, which Wysession chaired from 2008 to 2009.

Northwestern University seismologist Seth Stein compared Wysession's educational approach to that of Nobel Prize winners Richard Feynman, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Purcell, along with the science communication skills of Carl Sagan. But while these scientists turned to education only after achieving scientific success, "Wysession has been active in education throughout his career," Stein noted. "Second, they focused on developing high quality scientific education content, whereas Wysession also boldly entered the complicated world of K-12 educational policy, with great success."

Wysession's contributions to science education and public outreach include co-authorship of more than 20 science textbooks, work as a consultant on popular science television shows, and numerous lectures before scientific and public audiences, including the 2005 IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lectureship. As chair of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Education and Outreach Committee between 2005 and 2009, Wysession helped to develop and disseminate educational products such as Seismographs in Schools, earthquake Teachable Moments, and the Rapid Earthquake Viewer, among others.

Many of Wysession's colleagues have praised his emphasis on developing and promoting vivid multimedia educational tools, particularly his well-known animations of seismic wave propagation that have become a fixture of geophysics classes worldwide. He is also the author of video courses such as "How the Earth Works," "The World's Greatest Geologic Wonders," and "The Science of Energy," which are used in high school and community college classrooms throughout the U.S.

Since 2010, Wysession has also been co-leader of the program On the Cutting Edge, a workshop, research and online project to support effective teaching strategies to improve undergraduate geosciences education.

Wysession received his bachelor's degree in geophysics from Brown University in 1984 and his Ph.D. in geophysics from Northwestern University in 1991. He maintains an active research lab, with interests in earthquake seismology, Earth structure, mantle-core dynamics, and intraplate seismicity. He served on the IRIS Board of Directors from 2013 to 2015, and was the editor of Geophysical Research Letters from 2009 to 2015.

The Frank Press Public Service Award honors outstanding contributions to the advancement of public safety or public information relating to seismology. This award may be given to any individual, combination of individuals, or organization.

Seismological Society of America

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