IRIS-PASSCAL Celebrates 10 Years at New Mexico Tech, Nov. 5, 2008

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Nov. 5, 2008 – To celebrate its 10th anniversary at New Mexico Tech, the IRIS-PASSCAL Instrument Center will open its doors to the public from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20.

The event will include guided tours, refreshments and music by Bernie Romero and Friends.

Since 1998, the Socorro research university has been home to the IRIS PASSCAL Instrument Center, which conducts over 50 national and global research projects each year and operates a lending library of more than 3,500 research seismographs.

The center opened at New Mexico Tech in September 1998 as a result of a competitive bidding process. The National Science Foundation previously had supported two instrument centers – one at Stanford University in California and one at Columbia University in New York. The federally-funded Foundation decided to combine the two centers and solicited bids. In the process David beat two Goliaths.

“That was huge for New Mexico Tech,” said Vice President of Research and Economic Development, Dr. Van Romero. “Winning that bid was a huge coup. This is a real jewel and it’s been extremely successful. This is one of several divisions of New Mexico Tech that is on the cutting edge of scientific discovery and research.”

The facility now supports 35 full-time employees and more than 30,000 square feet under roof. The Center added a new instrument testing vault last summer and currently is constructing more office and lab space for its programs in Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland and other polar locales.

The PASSCAL Instrument Center at New Mexico Tech supports state-of-the-art, low-power, portable seismic instrumentation for investigator-driven experiments worldwide. The Instrument Center has more than $20 million of top-of-the-line “broadband” seismic sensors and another $50 million of other seismic equipment, all funded by the National Science Foundation the and U.S. Department of Energy.

"In any year, these instruments might be deployed to South America or Antarctica or anywhere else where there is interesting science to be done," said Dr. Rick Aster, principal investigator of the center. Dr. Bruce Beaudoin is the director of the PASSCAL Instrument Center. The overall PASSCAL Program is managed by Jim Fowler and Marcos Alvarez in association with the IRIS Board of Directors.

Seismologists and other geo-scientists use PASSCAL’s instruments for a wide variety of Earth science research – from the more esoteric disciplines, like mapping the Earth’s mantle and core, to critical societally important studies such as studying hazardous earthquake zones and listening for signs of nuclear bomb tests or other human-caused signals.

“We are the international standard for portable seismic research instruments,” said Aster, who is also the chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at Tech. “Other nations, like China, are trying to catch up, but we manage, by far, the world’s largest pool of this type of state-of-the-art research instrument.”

IRIS is an acronym for the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology – a consortium of more than 100 universities. PASSCAL is an acronym for the Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere, which is devoted to studying the geology and seismic nature of the Earth’s crust and mantle.

– NMT –