This award was presented to Miaki Ishii, Harvard University, at the 2009 annual meeting in Monterey, CA. In her young career, Ishii, an assistant professor of earth and planetary science at Harvard University, has made two groundbreaking discoveries in geophysics that have fostered intense debate and subsequent research that has changed the understanding of deep Earth seismology.
Since she entered Harvard to begin her doctoral work in the late 1990s, Ishii has shown a knack for answering big questions. Shortly after her arrival at Harvard, she researched the driving force behind plate tectonics — lateral variations in mantle density. The research inferred that the slowest parts of the lowermost mantle are denser than average, rather than lighter as most had assumed. The findings flew in the face of the long-held theory of a homogenized mantle and generated significant subsequent research and debate. Recent research is beginning to confirm Ishii’s observations.
Her second groundbreaking find built on her previous study with Harvard’s Adam Dziewonski. Ishii discovered what is now known as the “innermost inner core,” a region 300 kilometers in radius at the center of the Earth that has anisotropic properties distinct from the rest of the inner core.
In addition to her research, Ishii is known for her diligence and has shown a talent for presenting her research well — a talent that earned her Student Paper Awards from the American Geophysical Union in 1998 and 1999.