UC Berkeley geophysicist Harriet C.P. Lau wins Packard Foundation fellowship

October 18, 2022

Headshot of Prof. Harriet C.P. Lau, SquareDr. Harriet C.P. Lau, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley’s College of Letters & Science, has been awarded a 2022 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation. Lau is one of 20 early-career researchers to be recognized with this prestigious award. Each fellow will receive $875,000 over five years to pursue their research. 

“This award came as an absolute surprise and is a true honor,” said Lau. “The Foundation encourages its fellows to confront ‘risky’ and ambitious research questions in our respective fields, and I aspire to meet that goal!”

Lau is a theoretical geophysicist who studies the dynamics of Earth’s interior, or mantle, on a global scale. Lau and her research group use models to analyze mantle deformation over timescales that span from seconds to millions of years, driven by processes like earth tides. These processes influence Earth's surface environment in many ways, from mountain building to volcanism, to changes in ice sheet and sea level dynamics. 

“This generous award will go towards a multi-year effort in my group to understand how better understanding mantle and crustal deformation across these vast timescales influences Earth's climate system on equally vast timescales, from the paleo to the modern day,” said Lau. 

“Prof. Lau’s research is not just pushing the boundaries of studying how the Earth deforms over a broad spectrum of timescales, it is also timely,” said Michael Manga, earth and planetary science professor and department chair. “Understanding how Earth’s mantle deforms is also critical for understanding how ice sheets and oceans respond to a changing climate.”

Prof. Lau holding a rock sample and looking down at itSince 1988, The Packard Foundation has supported and strengthened university-based science and engineering programs. The Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering are designed to provide promising researchers with the opportunity to pursue their work and projects with great flexibility and limited funding restrictions. Packard Fellows also convene at an annual meeting to share and discuss their research, making possible interdisciplinary collaborations. “Packard Fellows are inquisitive, passionate scientists and engineers who take a creative approach to their research, dare to think big and follow new ideas wherever they lead.”

Lau joins a robust cohort of current faculty members in Berkeley Letters & Science who have also been named Packard Fellows: Dipti Nayak (Biological Sciences 2020); Courtney Dressing (Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology 2019); Norman Yao (Physics 2018); Seth Finnegan (Geosciences 2015); Antonio Montalban (Mathematics 2010); Feng Wang (Physics 2010); Holger Mueller (Physics 2009); Doris Bachtrog (Biological Sciences 2008); Daniel McKinsey (Physics 2004); Dan Stamper-Kurn (Physics 2002); Kristie Boering (Geosciences 2000); Uros Seljak (Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology 2000); Jennifer Doudna (Biochemistry 1996); Edward Frenkel (Math 1995); and James Graham (Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology 1993).