UAF awards first Schaible Geophysical Institute Fellowship
Alexandru Lapadat has a story Alaskans often hear from visitors who come back to the state after a first visit.
“I was here once four years ago doing some traveling with my family and hiking,” he said. “It's beautiful. I think a part of me just stayed here.”
Now the rest of him is here for a much longer stay as a student working toward a doctorate in geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks — and as the first recipient of the two-year Schaible Geophysical Institute Fellowship.
Grace Berg Schaible, a former Alaska attorney general and one of the University of Alaska’s greatest benefactors, established the fellowship for graduate students whose principal course of study is in subjects taught or researched at the Geophysical Institute. Schaible died in 2017, but the fellowship’s endowment received a $2.2 million gift from her estate in 2018, providing enough of a financial base so that planning for the awarding of fellowships could begin.
“I am grateful, and I hope this can continue for other prospective students,” said Lapadat, who arrived in Fairbanks in mid-August and was awarded the fellowship Sept. 10.
The fellowship means Lapadat can focus entirely on his own research — improving the accuracy of earthquake magnitude determinations.
“People are mainly interested in magnitude and when an earthquake will reach them,” he said, “so we will look at how to make this more precise and then how to make it work in real time as an early warning.”
He aims to use the Global Navigation Satellite System to measure ground displacement during large earthquakes and analyze that information to quickly and precisely determine magnitude. That would allow alerts to be sent to areas where seismic waves have yet to reach.
It’s a major challenge, but information delivered electronically travels faster than the surface S waves of an earthquake. That could mean seconds to minutes of advance warning of potentially disastrous shaking.
Lapadat is working at the Geophysical Institute with adviser Ronni Grapenthin, an associate professor in the UAF College of Natural Science and Mathematics.
“This fellowship allows for a kind of research a little different from what usually gets funded and puts the student more in the driver's seat of designing what they want to do,” Grapenthin said.
Lapadat started toward his eventual field of interest long ago in his small Transylvanian hometown of Sibiu, Romania.
“My mom asked me, ‘What interests you?,’ and I started by saying ‘I like math, I like geography, I like being out,’” he said. “So she said to go for a surveying camp during the summer. I liked it and started on geodesy, which is the science of representing the Earth's crust and everything that's on it.”
He later studied at Samuel von Brukenthal National College in Sibiu and at Technical University of Constructions Bucharest. He obtained his master’s in applied Earth sciences from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
The Schaible Geophysical Institute Fellowship will have a long-lasting impact.
"Grace Schaible was an amazing woman and a legend in Alaska," Geophysical Institute Director Robert McCoy said. "I’m sure she would have been pleased to see how her estate is helping this future scientist perform research and pursue a graduate degree. The generosity of her estate will allow the Geophysical Institute to support young scientists for many years to come."