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Doug Wiens

Graduation Year: 1980
Major(s): Physics
Current position: Professor, Dept. of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis 

Please describe your life journey since you graduated from Wheaton College.

After Wheaton I went to graduate school to study geophysics at Northwestern University, receiving an MS degree in 1982 and a PhD in 1985. Another highly significant event was that I married Debra Bock (Wheaton class of 1982) in 1982.

I accepted an assistant professor position at Washington University in late 1984, and have been there ever since, being promoted to Associate Professor in 1990 and full professor in 1996. We have two children, Andrew (born 1990) and Julia (born 1992). I spent much of 2005 as a visiting fellow in the Research School of Earth Sciences at Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, and the whole family enjoyed living in Australia for a while. I was elected a fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2006.

Although my PhD work was entirely analysis of existing data, I became interested in instrumentation and fieldwork during the early 1990s. I’ve carried out field work in Tonga, Fiji, the Mariana Islands, Chile, Cameroon, and Antarctica. This work usually involves installing and operating seismographs in remote regions, or even deploying ocean bottom seismographs from a ship.

In what way has your Wheaton education in physics or engineering prepared you for your current (or past) job?

My Wheaton physics background provided a good quantitative basis for graduate work in geophysics. I had relatively little trouble with the classes, and found that my background was an asset relative to many of the other students. I had also taken a few geology classes at Wheaton and this combination of physics and geology background was ideal. Good computer, writing, and speaking skills that I had developed while at Wheaton were also essential.

I still use the basic principals of physics every day in my lectures and in my research so I feel the education was highly relevant.

Please describe the relationship of your Christian faith with your scientific training or career path.

My Christian faith has been an important part of my life and I think may be a basis for much of the curiosity I have about the natural world. Faith has provided an important stability to my life in good times and in bad. I am intrigued by the relationship of faith and science and bring it in to my classes obliquely from time to time, such as in my current class “Ideas and Controversies in the Geosciences”, which explores the history of the geosciences and the development of many important ideas such as uniformitarianism and the great age of the universe.

Do you have any words for young students considering a physics or engineering major?

I think it is an exceptionally interesting and exciting field, and it was certainly the right choice for me. I am always glad to be in a field where I can wake up in the morning and be interested in what I am going to be studying or teaching about that day. I urge students who are gifted in math and physics to develop their talents and pursue a career in this area.  

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