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Dr. West's Web site

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Matthew West

Matthew West comes from Australia, where he did his undergraduate work at the University of Western Australia. After graduation, he came to the United States, to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), in part because of enthusiastic recommendations from a number of his college professors, all of whom had received doctoral degrees from Caltech. "This turned out to be a really great place to work," says Dr. West. "I was attracted by the small size and the dedication to research at Caltech, and people are always very eager to discuss their research with each other and collaborate on projects. It's the perfect environment for a student."

That interest in collaboration extended to the KDI-funded project Structure Preserving Algorithms and Model Reduction in the Natural Sciences, which West worked on as a graduate student. The project's principal investigator was Dr. Jerrold Marsden of Caltech. The team he led developed new theoretical and computational techniques that combined research in the fields of mathematics, computer science, and geophysical sciences. West worked at modeling fluids, such as ocean circulation models. The most important advance in this project was the development of a theory that permits numerical simulations that more accurately compute the way large eddies and other circulatory systems move in the ocean.

After Dr. West got his Ph.D. from Caltech, he became an assistant professor in the Mathematics Department at the University of California, Davis. There, his research has expanded. Currently, he is focused on two areas. First, he is working on a new model of the "slippage" that occurs when two pieces of the earth's crust move against one another and tensions build. This is what triggers an earthquake. "One of the central problems that prevents us from being able to predict when earthquakes are likely to occur is the fact that we have only a very poor understanding of what is actually happening in the earth during an earthquake event," says Dr. West. "Looking at a faultline is extremely complex." In an effort to better understand what's going on far beneath the earth's surface during an earthquake, Dr. West uses models of fluids with internal structure (related to liquid crystal models) to describe the behavior of the earth during a slip. He is doing this work in conjunction with Dr. Steve Shkoller, also in the Math Department at UC Davis, and Drs. Louise Kellogg and Donald Turcotte, both in the university's Geology Department, supported by an NSF Collaborations in Mathematical Geosciences grant. The project is called Rheology of Damaged Materials with Applications to Deformation in the Earth's Crust, and the researchers' findings will ultimately help make earthquake predictions more accurate.

The other area of Dr. West's research is how to use computers to simulate problems with fluids and boundaries, such as droplets of fuel in an engine injector system or the inflation of gas inside an airbag. According to Dr. West, "The main difficulty here is the lack of mathematical foundations of the numerical methods for such problems, making it hard to fix simulations that don't work and to design more efficient algorithms. This is making progress hard. I'm currently working on some new theory for this problem, again with Steve Shkoller, as part of an NSF Information Technology Research grant."

Dr. West says, "A major impact on my work of the KDI grant was that I met and started working with Steve Shkoller, who was one of the co-PIs on the KDI project. That was actually one of the main mechanisms of how we got to know each other, and it's led to a very fruitful collaboration."

To learn more about Dr. West's work, visit his Web site at: http://www.math.ucdavis.edu/~mwest/

 

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