For decades, seismologist Lucy Jones PhD ’81 has been the calm and reassuring public voice Californians turned to in the wake of significant earthquakes. Now, after 33 years as the science adviser for risk reduction at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the “Beyoncé of Earthquakes,” as she’s come to be known, is retiring. Recently, she spoke to the Los Angeles Times about her pioneering career and what she plans to do next.
The daughter of an engineer who helped build the Apollo 13 lunar module, Jones pursued her love of science at a time when math and science were a man’s world: After receiving a perfect score on a science aptitude test, her high school guidance counselor accused her of cheating. Another teacher encouraged her to enroll in Radcliffe because Harvard had a better class of marriageable men (she ended up at Brown). At MIT, she was one of just two women pursuing a PhD in geophysics.
Her persistence paid off. While at MIT, Jones became one of the first experts on foreshocks—smaller earthquakes that occur before large seismic events. In 1979, Jones became the first American scientist allowed to enter China, due in large part to her extensive research on the 1975 earthquake in Haicheng, China.
Back in the US, Jones has played a key role in improving the nation’s responses to natural disasters. Her research is the basis for all earthquake advisories issued in California. She’s also developed earthquake simulations that have led to major infrastructure improvements throughout Southern California, and a global educational campaign on earthquake preparedness. Last year, 43 million people participated in the annual ShakeOut drill.
Jones may be retiring from the USGS, but she will still be working to help people prepare for the “big one.” She plans to launch a center bridging science and public policy, partnering with cities to develop responses to a range of natural disasters related including climate change, tsunamis—and of course, earthquakes.
Story Image: Lucy Jones PhD ’81 (right) received the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for her groundbreaking research which brought together public officials and leaders in academia, industry and business to address earthquake risks and improve emergency preparedness. Image: Flickr/USInterior
Lucy Jones received her PhD from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in 1981 two years before the merger to form EAPS. Her thesis Field and Laboratory Studies of the Mechanics of Faulting was advised by Dr. Peter Molnar and Prof. Bill Brace. Her thesis committee was chaired by Prof. Ted Madden.