Presented to Demian Michael Saffer
Citation by J. Casey Moore
Tonight Demian Saffer receives the Young Scientist Award for his outstanding contributions in the field of geofluids. His work at this multidisciplinary edge combines elements of geohydrology and tectonics, especially in the study of plate-boundary faults. His research integrates rigorous quantitative modeling with data collection and experimental work. For example, he has shown that the shape of tectonically constructed accretionary wedges at convergent margins is a reflection of sediment permeability. In his recent papers on the San Andreas fault, he has demonstrated that transport of mechanically generated heat by groundwater cannot explain the characteristic low heat flow of this fault. Thus, he furthered and clarified the argument for a so-called “weak” fault. In an important experimental study, he demonstrated that the smectite to illite clay transition cannot explain the upper aseismic to seismic transition. In these examples, Demian has brought new and quantitative thinking, experimental approaches, and careful data analysis to fundamental problems in the geosciences.
Demian’s analytical ability has not only been focused on his own contributions. He has received high praise for his work on panels of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. He has also been a major contributor to a series of proposals that underlie the most ambitions IODP plate boundary drilling effort yet: that to drill into an active seismogenic portion of a subduction zone.
Finally Demian’s clarity of thought also resonates through his teaching, where he is inspiring many students both at the undergraduate and graduate level.
Demian’s colleagues, teachers, and family have outlined some the reasons for Demian’s professional success:
He’s really smart, works very hard, and is consequently very productive. His strong intellect is balanced by humility, self-effacement, and the ability to have fun.
Demian listens to others, learns from others, and puts value on their contributions.
He’s dependable. When he makes a commitment, he delivers.
And finally, he rises to the occasion when given new responsibilities.
What underlies Demian’s accomplishments and personal qualities? How did he become the person he is?
Unquestionably, Demian possesses strong genetic heritage. His mother tells me that he was trying to understand how the world works from his earliest years on.
Secondly, his family obviously provided a supportive environment for his growth through constantly trying to satisfy and encourage his natural curiosity. There are stories of trips to the rock store, tackle boxes full of rocks, and lots of time spent along the seashore. In the words of this father, they also stayed out of his way and allowed his intellect to flourish.
His teachers were important and typified by Paul Karabinos at Williams College, where Demian was an undergraduate. Paul introduced Demian to the modeling of stress along the San Andreas fault and remarks that he always considered Demian as a colleague, even as an undergraduate.
Demian arrived at the University of California at Santa Cruz with a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship. He was very young and completed his Ph.D. in four years, a harbinger this award. His NSF fellowship gave him a great deal of freedom to develop his interests. In this context, I was his advisor in the truest sense, suggesting opportunities rather than narrowly directing him. Demian’s innate quantitative abilities flourished at Santa Cruz under the tutelage of Barbara Bekins, who taught him the subtleties of numerical modeling. He also gathered an appreciation for value of good data and its constraints through interacting with many outstanding graduate students and a diverse faculty.
As a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey, Demian continued to work with Barbara Bekins and also Steve Hickman on geohydrogeology of the San Andreas fault. Independently, he was exposed to experimental work through collaboration with Chris Marone, an association that ultimately was a powerful draw to his present position at Penn State University.
He has had a continuing association with the Ocean Drilling Program and benefited enormously from this rich multidisciplinary environment.
And finally his partner, Melanie Forbes, is providing a supportive environment for his life and career.
In summary these circumstances have developed a person with ability, desire, good interpersonal skills, a person who is willing to work at disciplinary boundaries and is equally comfortable with theory, experiment, and data.
It is particularly pleasant to be making an award to Demian Saffer, who is on such a steep upward professional trajectory, a person who is making outstanding scientific contributions and continuously developing his intuition, creativity, and originality. I am certain that GSA’s Young Scientist Award will help spur Demian on to ever-greater accomplishments.