The 10th RPI for March-April 2017: Manika Prasad

Professor at the Center of Rock Abuse, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado, USA

About the influencer

Manika started her career with a geology degree from Bombay University. After hearing about plate tectonics from her undergraduate professor (Dr. Sethna), she was hooked! That fascination took her to Germany to study Marine Geophysics and Geology. After doing Marine Seismic interpretation during MSc, she started working on marine sediments – and became a lab rat. Manika has maintained this lab rat status migrating from Germany via India to the Mineral Physics Lab in University of Hawai’i and the Stanford Rock Physics and Borehole Group to the Center for Rock Abuse at Colorado School of Mines where she teaches and researches since late 2004. She is fortunate to have excellent hard-working students in the Rock Abuse lab so that she does not have to do anything.

Manika’s PhD thesis was on Acoustic Properties of Sands. In Hawai’i, she was involved in Non-destructive testing and learned the art of acoustic microscopy. At this time, she became fascinated with using acoustic waves to image rocks, cements, and anything that had an impedance contrast. She pioneered adaptation of non-destructive testing techniques to earth sciences by introducing acoustic microscopy and atomic force acoustic microscopy methods in the late 1990s - which are now standard for nanomechanical testing of clay and kerogen (see write up in American Laboratory, 2004). A very successful use of acoustic imaging was to discover the formation of the mineral Ettringite in concrete that came from a failed structure. That discovery showed that new mineral formation does not always lead to higher stiffness but, as in the case of ettringite formation in concrete, it can also lead to failure. Her latest work (Wilkinson et al., 2015) was featured on the cover page of the Journal of Materials Science.

Manika was nominated as the 2012 SEG – AAPG Distinguished Lecturer and gave about 30 lectures at national and international locations; she teaches Continuing Education courses; she was awarded the 2015 SEG Outstanding Educator Award. She is Associate Editor for Geophysics since 2014 and Technical Editor for SPE Reservoir Evaluation & Engineering-Formation Evaluation since 2010.

Around 2010, Manika realized that all Rock Physicists needed to convene in a common place that allowed more substantial exchange. Together with Rekha Patel, she started the tradition of the Rock Physics Reception at SEG Annual meetings. During one of the first receptions, a group of rock physicists banded together and decided to hold a rock physics workshop. Manika hosted the First International Rock Physics Workshop (IWRP) at CSM in 2011. Both, the reception and the workshop are now established venues for rock physicists to generate excellent ideas and the next generation of rock squeezers. 

Pathways and recipes for your success in becoming a well-known name in the rock physics community

Knowledge: Know your stuff!

Perseverance: Keep doing what you think is right for you even if others are discouraging or disparaging. This motto helped Manika when faced with discrimination in Germany and in Hawai’i. Of course, this requires a certain amount of stubbornness!

Persistence: A dogged persistence and an insane need to follow what seems fascinating. Without fascination and joy of discovery in our work, whatever we do is not worth doing.

Outreach: At any given time, others might consider you lucky and gifted even though your own reality might deny this. Reach out and communicate with them. Communication is not only with people who can help us. Be a mentor to someone.

Mentors: Recognize who your mentors are – they can be from all walks of life. Mentors do not have to be formally appointed or identified as such – sometimes a few sentences can carry much more weight at the right time. E.g., Manika was told by her undergraduate professor (and her first mentor), Dr. Sethna, to not worry about what the others in class did – they would only distract!

Dream big and have fun: Take time to dream what you would like to do and find fellow dreamers. I was fortunate to have Mike Batzle as a fellow dreamer – we hatched many a scientific plans on the benches of the second biggest brewery in Golden – only to forget them the next day.

It takes a long time to recover from a toxic work environment. 

Challenges you see in taking rock physics to the next level (This can be unresolved issues in rock physics in general or in a particular field you are working on)

Lack of communication between theoreticians (pencil pushers) and experimentalists (lab rats). We need to design experiments to test and confine theories.

We still have not addressed the “upscaling issue” – we need to understand how ant-sized phenomena control elephant-sized features. Our understanding of the controls of organic matter and its maturity on seismic properties is far from complete. In order to understand the coupled behaviour of stiffness, loss, electrical and fluid flow, we MUST perform multi-physics measurements – these are measurements made on the same sample in the same conditions thus eliminating sample and stress heterogeneity.

Advice for early career scientists (rock physicists, geophysicists, etc.)
(This can be in term of inspiration or direction you see young scientists should focus on)

I would like to see the next generation work on:
Surface phenomena – chemical potential; surface energy; surface tension – whatever we might call it. With our focus on organic-rich mudrocks and shales, we are moving towards rocks with very large surface areas. In such rocks, surface phenomena will dominate the response. 

Attenuation and attenuation anisotropy: how do they affect seismic response? Can we use these properties to determine fluid content and fluid type?

A geophysical and petrophysical approach to well-log analysis: Currently, there is a disconnect between petrophysicists who evaluate well logs and geophysicists who use well logs for well-to-seismic ties. For example, rock physicists argue about the errors in our fluid substitution models without understanding that there are errors in the petrophysical water saturation logs. 

We thank Manika for her continuous contributions to the rock physics community.