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Director Dunbar wins 2021 NMT Distinguished Research Award

Nelia Dunbar standing by an englacial volcanic deposit at Mount Waesche
(click for a larger version)
2019 Bill McIntosh

— May 9, 2021

The New Mexico Tech 2021 Distinguished Research Award winner is Dr. Nelia Dunbar, Director of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. The recipient of the Distinguished Research Award is chosen by a committee of Tech faculty and researchers from a list of candidates nominated by their colleagues.

Dr. Dunbar first came to New Mexico Tech as a graduate student in 1983. She earned her master’s and Ph.D. here in geology and geochemistry. Since then she’s participated in more than twenty field campaigns and associated research, which formed the basis of her nomination. She has served as the New Mexico State Geologist and the Director of the Bureau since 2016.

Her nomination was supported by colleagues at the University of New Mexico, the University of Arizona, and the University of Leicester in England.

Dr. Dunbar has earned an international reputation for her work in dating studying volcanic ash in ice cores from Antarctica using her electron microprobe lab here in Socorro. In addition to work on ice cores, she has used her instrumentation and analytical skills to study all sorts of rocks, minerals, and even human fossil remains.

Dr. Jay Quade of the University of Arizona wrote, “I regard Nelia as one of the best volcanic petrologists in the country. Her excellence flows from having worked on so many different volcanic rocks globally.“

Dr. Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico wrote “Equally impressive to me personally is the collaborative and service context of Nelia’s research accomplishments Her dedication to New Mexico Tech, the New Mexico Geological Society and New Mexico State Geologists have been unwavering for decades. … she insists on excellence in all realms of geoscience research, teaching and service.”

Dr. John Smellie of the University of Leicester wrote “I was immediately impressed by two particular aspects of her character – 1) her ability to get on with and mediate between disparate groups of mostly male and often warring geologists, and 2) her considerable camp management abilities.” Smellie also praised Dr. Dunbar for creating the largest and highest-quality dataset of tephra volcanic ash analyses for Antarctica that have significantly enhanced our ability to correlate ice cores and the history of volcanic eruptions globally.

Each of the letter writers offered unqualified praise for Dr. Dunbar’s breadth and depth of her research. They cited her high h-index of 37 and her citations, which number more than 4,500.