Wright State grad Behzad Ghanbarian wins prestigious geophysics award for Ph.D. research

Behzad Ghanbarian portrait

Behzad Ghanbarian ’14 will receive the Donald L. Turcotte award by the nonlinear geophysics focus group of the American Geophysical Union for his dissertation on the physical and hydraulic properties of rocks and soils.

Recent Wright State University environmental sciences graduate Behzad Ghanbarian, now a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas, has been selected to receive a prestigious national award for outstanding dissertation-related research.

Ghanbarian will be presented with the Donald L. Turcotte award by the nonlinear geophysics focus group of the American Geophysical Union at the group’s December meeting in San Francisco. It is billed as the largest earth and space science meeting in the world, expected to draw nearly 24,000 attendees.

Turcotte was known for applying dynamical systems to geological problems, including crustal deformation and seismicity. The Turcotte award is given annually to one honoree in recognition of outstanding dissertation research that contributes directly to nonlinear geophysics.

“Winning the Turcotte award is absolutely a great honor,” said Ghanbarian. “I feel like all of my hard work during my Ph.D. program at Wright State bore fruit.”

Ghanbarian’s Ph.D. dissertation focused on modeling the physical and hydraulic properties of disordered and complex rocks and soils using theoretically based models from physics and math.

“Understanding fluid flow and solute transport is essential and has broad applications in soil physics, hydrology and civil and petroleum engineering,” he said.

He credited the support of Wright State professor Allen Hunt, who has a joint appointment in the departments of Physics and Earth and Environmental Sciences and whom Ghanbarian calls a “once-in-a-lifetime adviser.” Hunt is a pioneer in porous media — hydrology, hydrogeology and soil physics — and an expert in fractals and percolation theory.

“I want to thank the chair, faculty and staff of the Physics and Earth & Environmental Sciences departments for their continuous support during my Ph.D. work at Wright State,” said Ghanbarian. “The strong support of the Environmental Sciences Ph.D. program, its dean and staff was also critical.”

Ghanbarian grew up in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, the youngest of four children and whose father was the head of a major national bank. He won a scholarship to Isfahan University of Technology to study irrigation, calculating the design and placement of irrigation and drainage systems to prepare land for farming.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 2005, Ghanbarian began working on his master’s at the University of Tehran, where he became interested in fractal geometry.

Fractals differ from regular geometric forms because they are complex figures such as snowflakes or tree leaves that must be measured using different scales to compare how the pattern changes. For example, the length of a coastline differs depending on the scale of the measuring stick.

For his master’s project, Ghanbarian worked with a University of Tennessee professor to investigate evaporation in agriculture by imaging tree leaves and counting the number and distribution of stomata, or pores.

While he was doing research for his Ph.D., Ghanbarian discovered a paper written by Hunt, began communicating with him and in 2010 enrolled in Wright State’s environmental sciences Ph.D. program.

In 2013, Ghanbarian, whose home department was Earth & Environmental Sciences, won Wright State’s Graduate Student Excellence Award. He graduated in May 2014 with a Ph.D. in environmental sciences. He has had dozens of papers published in international, peer-reviewed journals.

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