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Asthenosphere. Lithosphere. Seismic discontinuities. For most people, such words seem more at home in a science fiction movie than scholastic research. But for Donald Isaak, Ph.D., chair of Azusa Pacific's Department of Mathematics and Physics, it is all in a day's work.

Throughout the past 20 years, he has delved into the world of geophysics, examining composition and physical processes occurring in the deep Earth. And thanks to the help of a nearly $200,000 grant provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF), he now anticipates three additional years of investigating the Earth's interior.

After a detailed proposal review process, Isaak and collaborator Gabriel Gwanmesia, Ph.D., professor at Delaware State University, obtained approval in spring 2004 for their research project on the elasticity of hot-pressed polycrystalline minerals of Earth's transition zone. Rather than drill 300 miles into the Earth's mantle to learn about physical processes at those depths, researchers like Isaak and Gwanmesia try to simulate these processes in the laboratory. This grant enables Gwanmesia to synthesize the minerals believed to exist at that level through the use of special high-pressure presses. Isaak will then conduct studies on the seismic waves found in these minerals.

"During these three years, we hope to measure wave speeds through several of the high pressure types of minerals that are likely constituents of the deep Earth," said Isaak. "This research will have important implications down the road. The more we understand about Earth's interior, the more we understand events, such as earthquakes, that occur at or near Earth's surface."

Isaak will conduct his research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Mineral Physics Laboratory, where he also serves as a research faculty member in the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. He plans to involve several APU students throughout the process.

"This major achievement represents recognition of Dr. Isaak's work by the nation's most prestigious granting agency in the sciences," said David L. Weeks, Ph.D., dean of APU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The opportunity to conduct research in conjunction with NSF is a familiar one for Isaak. He also served as principal investigator for two previous NSF-funded proposals during the past 10 years. His breadth of experience includes work as a national research council fellow at the Naval Research Laboratory, and as a collaborator in shock-wave physics at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.