By Tracy Correa
Norm Abrahamson, a PG&E seismic engineer, has received a prestigious award for his years of work on reducing earthquake risk by improving seismic safety.
Abrahamson was named winner of the 2012 Bruce A. Bolt Medal.
The award recognizes individuals worldwide “whose accomplishments involve the promotion and use of strong-motion earthquake data and whose leadership in the transfer of scientific and engineering knowledge into practice or policy has led to improved seismic safety.”
The medal is awarded jointly by the Consortium of Strong Motion Observation Systems (COSMOS) , the Seismological Society of America (SSA) , and Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI).
Abrahamson, who has worked for PG&E for 16 years, said he was honored to learn of his selection for the award. He will receive the medal at the Nov. 16 COSMOS conference in Emeryville.
Nominated by his peers
He said the award – because it is jointly awarded by members of three professional groups in the field of seismology and engineering – is a major honor. It means a lot, he said, “Because your peers nominate you.”
The award also has special significance because it is named after a man who served as a mentor to Abrahamson and is highly respected in the field. A renowned scientist and seismologist at the University California, Berkeley, Bruce Bolt died in 2005. Bolt made important observations about earthquakes in California and later helped translate the research into safer and more resilient bridges and buildings.
“Bruce Bolt was my PhD advisor at Berkeley,” said Abrahamson. He said Bolt was the first seismologist to bridge the gap between the sciences of seismology and engineering. “I owe my career to him,” he added.
Noteworthy in his own right, Abrahamson has devoted much of his career at PG&E to seismic research involving developing models to quantify the strength of shaking during large earthquakes at short distances from the faults which is a key issue for the seismic safety of Diablo Canyon Power Plant – PG&E’s nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County. He has also been involved in the development of seismic shaking levels for dams in PG&E’s hydro system and for important structures outside of the utility, such as the new San Francisco Bay Bridge.
‘The top engineering seismologist’
Jonathan D. Bray, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley, nominated Abrahamson.
“Simply stated, Dr. Abrahamson is one of the brightest scientists whom I have ever met, and he is the top engineering seismologist in the nation at this time. He possesses an intellect that is second to none. He focuses on problems of importance to science, engineering, and society. He displays exceptional creativity and understanding of earthquakes, their consequences, and people in solving problems. Dr. Abrahamson’s impact on California, the nation, and the world is unparalleled,” Bray wrote in his nomination of Abrahamson.
Abrahamson said one of the things he appreciates about his job at PG&E is the flexibility the company provides him to stay active in the earthquake research community.
In the earthquake sciences, PG&E is widely recognized as a leading industry partner within the research community. Abrahamson is helping to maintain the utility’s leadership role by working closely with the three main earthquake science and engineering centers in California: UC Berkeley’s Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, the University of Southern California’s Southern California Earthquake Center, and the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. Abrahamson helps coordinate science and engineering research so that the resulting models and methods are applicable to PG&E facilities. He also is an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, teaching classes on seismic hazard analysis.
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com