CORVALLIS - One of the world's leading tsunami experts has joined the College of Engineering at Oregon State University to help develop the largest and most technologically advanced tsunami research center in the world.
Harry Yeh, a professor of environmental and civil engineering at the University of Washington for nearly 20 years, accepted a joint appointment in the OSU Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Computer Science. Yeh will fill a new endowed chair designed to support research across disciplines.
The College of Engineering has also hired Daniel Cox, an associate professor from Texas A&M University, as the new director of its O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory. He will be an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering.
The wave lab is being renovated and expanded to include the new Tsunami Research Center. Cox replaces retiring director Charles Sollitt.
"Bringing both Harry Yeh and Dan Cox here to team with our existing faculty and students will create at Oregon State the world's most powerful tsunami research team," said Ron Adams, dean of the OSU College of Engineering. "This is important for Oregon, the Pacific Rim and the world, and marks another major step toward building one of the nation's top 25 engineering programs at Oregon State."
The Tsunami Research Center is funded by a $4.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It will employ state-of-the-art communications technology to enable researchers worldwide to participate in real-time experiments at the Corvallis facility via the Internet, ultimately improving tsunami warning systems around the planet.
The unique combination of physical research and information technology attracted Yeh to the position, which was made possible by the Edwards Chair, recently established in honor of OSU engineering alum Miles Lowell Edwards, co-inventor of the world's first artificial heart valve, and his wife Margaret. The Edwards Chair is not tied to a specific discipline but designed to tap the synergy found where disciplines intersect.
"This is a powerful example of how an endowed chair can bring world-class faculty to Oregon State," Adams said. "When faculty reach cross disciplines, creative things happen."
Yeh said OSU has an unusually high level of research collaboration between departments at the university, a key factor in tsunami research.
"Tsunami research is very, very multidisciplinary," Yeh said. "It involves geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, hydrodynamics, seismology, mathematics, geographic information systems, social science, information transmission, remote sensing, and more."
Yeh said tsunamis, which are generally caused by undersea earthquakes, differ from other natural disasters because they propagate with time, affecting vast geographical areas and many people. He described a 1960 tsunami that originated in Chile, then traveled at the speed of a jetliner to hit Japan some 24 hours later, killing hundreds of people.
"This is why it's very important to have international cooperation for the warning systems," Yeh said, "and why OSU must collaborate with researchers in Asia and Europe."
Yeh grew up in Japan and has done tsunami research in Indonesia, Nicaragua, Turkey, Greece, and other countries. He plans to use his worldwide contacts to expand OSU's tsunami and ocean research to include a network of international players.
OSU engineering faculty who will work closely with Yeh and Cox to build the tsunami center include Cherri Pancake in computer science and Solomon Yim in civil engineering. Part of what drew Cox to the wave lab directorship was Pancake's ideas for high-tech archival data retrieval and the integration of real-time systems for relaying experiments to an international audience.
"This is a very interesting aspect," he said, "and a great benefit not only to researchers worldwide but also to our own students who will be able to get their hands wet at the lab and gain real-world information technology experience."
Pancake, who played a key role in securing the $4.8 million grant, is leading efforts to establish the Tsunami Experimental Databank at OSU. She has teamed up with Yeh, OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center, OSU assistant professor of computer science Jon Herlocker, and researchers in Japan to create the International Tsunami Digital Library, also to be based at Oregon State.
"The databank and digital library will be absolutely the first of their kind anywhere in the world," Pancake said. "OSU is definitely poised to be the nexus for tsunami research worldwide."
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Ron Adams, 541-737-3101