Take 5: Geologist Jun Korenaga

Take 5 offers a brief introduction to Yale faculty members in a Q&A format. The featured faculty member selects 5 out of 10 questions to answer. Any opinions shared are not necessarily those of YaleNews.

A self-described “freestyle” geophysicist, Jun Korenaga studies the evolution and dynamics of the Earth’s mantle in connection with its chemical differentiation. His research spans geodynamics, geochemistry, and seismology. In the classroom, he and his students explore earthquakes and volcanoes, geophysics and planetary physics, the science of complex systems, and geodynamics. During the spring of 2012, he led a seismic investigation aboard the R/V “Marcus G. Langseth” over the Shatsky Rise, an oceanic plateau off the coast of Japan that may include the largest volcano on Earth. See the cruise blog.


What scholarly/research project are you working on now?

One of the great mysteries in geophysics is why plate tectonics takes place on Earth. There are a few hypotheses, but it has been difficult to test any of them with observations. Recently I realized that a key might be hidden in the subtle signatures of the gravity field, and with my postdoc, I have been developing a new way of analyzing gravity data. Also, I have been working on the seismic imaging of Earth's deep interior, using a new signal detection method I invented last year. This imaging project is yielding exciting results on the fine-scale structure of Earth's mantle, which may eventually alter our understanding of how mantle convection works.

What important lesson(s) have you learned from your students?

The importance of being open-minded and its difficulty. I suspect that many of us suffer from hysteresis to some degree; how we look at the world is molded unconsciously by our educational path. Innocent questions from students often help me to escape from this entrenched state and become aware of fresh perspectives to age-old problems.

What world problem would you fix, if you could?

Whether or not we will continue to use nuclear power, there already exists a tremendous amount of radioactive waste all over the world, produced by more than 50 years of nuclear power generation. Unfortunately, nobody has found a satisfactory solution for how to deal with this extremely harmful substance. Because of the apparently small footprint of long-term storage, the burden tends to be forced onto those who are politically weak and is not recognized as a global issue. As a geophysicist, I sometimes wonder if we could dump all of nuclear waste really deep, like into the Earth's core. At least theoretically, it's not implausible.

What do you do for fun?

Going to classical music concerts with my family. My wife and I are both big fans of string quartets.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

The former location of the house of Josiah Willard Gibbs. Though there is only a small plaque to commemorate the fact, seeing it always urges me to focus on the most important problems.

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