Thomas Heaton is Emeritus Professor of Engineering Seismology at the California Institute of Technology with a joint position in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science and the Division of Geological and Planetary Science. He is past Director of Caltech’s Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory.
Dr. Heaton’s research falls into two broad topics, 1) understanding the physics of earthquake ruptures, and 2) understanding the impact of large earthquakes on cities. His current research on earthquake physics focuses on bridging the gap between the laboratory observations of dynamic fault friction, and large scale rupture of the Earth’s crust (i.e., earthquakes). This requires the development of statistical physics of highly nonlinear dynamic systems.
Dr. Heaton has also studied the nature of ground shaking in large earthquakes. Although he was originally trained as a physicist, his career took a new direction when he joined the Civil Engineering Department at Caltech. Much of his research has been on understanding the dynamics of different types of buildings. He has shown that, although tall buildings can be expected to perform well in moderate sized earthquakes, they may experience severe damage, and possibly collapse, in large earthquakes similar to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Dr. Heaton is also a pioneer in the development of automated systems to react to an earthquake during the time between its origin and the onset of strong shaking at a particular site (seconds to tens of seconds). He is currently a co-Principal Investigator on The ShakeAlert Project of the California Integrated Seismic Network.