Jeanne Hardebeck

2007 James B. Macelwane Medal Winner

U.S. Geological Survey

Jeanne Hardebeck was awarded the 2007 James B. Macelwane Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 12 December 2007 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is “for significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by a young scientist of outstanding ability.”


It is an honor to present the citation for Jeanne L. Hardebeck’s James B. Macelwane Medal, just as it is my privilege to work with her at the U.S. Geological Survey. Jeanne’s success is readily apparent in her research, in the leadership she has displayed after significant earthquakes, in her becoming an associate editor of Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America only a year after receiving her Ph.D., and in her receiving the Richter Early Career Award from the Seismological Society of America earlier this year. But what is it about her that we can emulate? The efficiency of her computer skills is stunning; it can be baffling to watch over her shoulder as she works. But that isn’t the key to her success, and, without her bachelor’s degree in computer science from Cornell, I’m not sure we can do it anyway. She has immersed herself in major controversial topics since she became a graduate student at Caltech: the orientation of stress throughout the San Andreas Fault system, the strength of faults, and earthquake interactions. But taking on major problems is not enough.

Fortunately, Jeanne unintentionally provided me with a succinct summary of why she is so successful. During a conversation in her office, she said, “I don’t need to be right.”

Having worked closely with Jeanne on the stress controversy, these words surprised me not one bit. Over the years, I have never heard Jeanne utter a single biased phrase. Instead, her comments are always tied to data. And her words are mirrored by her research, which builds from the analysis of raw seismograms, to the determination of focal mechanisms—the method she developed with Peter Shearer while a postdoc at Scripps wonderfully encapsulates the approach and wisdom of Jerry Eaton—and on to new methods for inferring the state of stress, all of which lead to comprehensive discussions of seismogenic processes.

And she does it with great modesty and an unassuming nature. But do not mistake her gentleness for weakness. In another conversation, I took a misstep and Jeanne quickly and emphatically demonstrated the errors of my ways by presenting several reasons in a logical progression. Modesty and strength coexist because the foundation is the data.

Her approach is not new, not even to those who study the San Andreas Fault at the USGS; consider this description of G. K. Gilbert:
“It was his habit in presenting a conclusion to expose it as a ball might be placed on the outstretched hand—not gripped as if to prevent its fall, not grasped as if to hurl it at an objector, but poised on the open palm, free to roll off if any breath of disturbing evidence should displace it; yet there it would rest in satisfied stability. Not he, but the facts that he marshaled, clamored for the acceptance of the explanation that he had found for them.”

Or as Jeanne more succinctly put it, “I don’t need to be right.” That attitude has allowed Jeanne to be right so many times, makes her a joy to work with, and has certainly made her worthy of this medal.

—ANDREW MICHAEL, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.


Thank you, Andy, for those kind words. They are particularly meaningful coming from you, because of how much I have learned from you about the importance of honoring the data, in particular the value of statistics in separating real patterns in the data from apparent patterns created by the human brain.

It is an honor to receive the Macelwane Medal. Many people have contributed to my success, and to my enjoyment of geo-physics, through what they have taught me, through their support and guidance, and through their friendship. I have time to thank just a few: Egill Hauksson and Hiroo Kanamori of Caltech, Peter Shearer of Scripps, and Andy Michael, Ruth Harris, Tom Hanks, and Bill Ellsworth of the USGS.

That I have a career in geophysics at all is because people believed in me, even when it was far from obvious that I would be successful. I had a bachelor’s degree in computer science and had worked briefly at a start-up, when I decided to make a drastic career change and become a seismologist. My deepest thanks go to my parents, Ellen and Harry Hardebeck, for supporting me through the process of rethinking what I wanted to do with my life. I am also tremendously grateful to the fa-culty of the Caltech Seismo Lab for taking a chance and admitting a grad student with almost no geophysics background, and I am especially grateful to Egill Hauksson for taking me on as his student.

The Caltech Seismo Lab was an exciting environment to learn all the geophysics I had missed, and also how to think crea-tively about scientific problems. The twice-daily coffee hours were often lively debates or brainstorming sessions where grad students could jump right in along with some of the biggest names in geophysics.

Working on my thesis with Egill Hauksson, and later as a postdoc with Peter Shearer, I learned that interesting science comes from getting the right balance between creative thinking and thorough analysis of observations. Too far one way and one is writing science fiction; too far the other way and one is no longer moving the field forward. Or, to paraphrase Don Anderson paraphrasing Richard Feynman, the value of a project is equal to the importance of the problem multiplied by how much you can actually do about it. Working at the USGS, I have learned that there is another factor in that equation: how valuable your science is to society. It’s a pleasure to work with colleagues who are dedicated to making a positive impact on society through research and public outreach, without forgetting that science serves another important role in society, as a way to try to make sense of our world and our relationship to it.

Finally, I wish to thank the entire geophysics community for providing a supportive and cooperative research environment. Is it indeed an honor to be recognized by such an outstanding community.

—JEANNE HARDEBECK, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.