Andrew Zuza was named the 2023 Donath Medal recipient by the Geological Society of America. Zuza is an associate professor of geosciences in the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology (NBMG). The Young Scientist Award, also known as the Donath Medal, is awarded to a young scientist whose original research has contributed to a major advancement in earth sciences.
Zuza is highly regarded by his colleagues for his work to understand mountain building and plate tectonics. As a structural geologist, Zuza is interested in the long-term geometry and evolution of deformed rocks that can form mountain ranges like the Sierra Nevada or Himalaya.
“We studied the overall growth history of these systems over tens of millions of years,” Zuza said. “My students and I do this primarily through geologic mapping in the field.”
After visiting the field, Zuza and his students reconstruct the geologic history of an area, including how the rocks have moved and deformed because of plate tectonic processes. They also bring rocks back from the field to the lab to analyze and date certain minerals within the samples.
Studying plate tectonics builds knowledge about earth’s physical history, and that understanding can even be used to study other planets. Knowledge of plate tectonics also provides a better understanding of how faults may rupture to generate earthquakes. Of particular interest to Nevadans is the economic motivation in identifying how minerals and fluids move through the outer layer of the earth’s surface. Knowledge of fluid pathways near the earth’s surface helps researchers identify potential geothermal resources and rare mineral deposits.
“Sometimes, my science and what we do may feel a little old fashioned,” Zuza said. “However, detailed fieldwork and geologic mapping is very fundamental to many different fields, such as the energy industry, the resource industry, and to understand earthquakes and related hazards.”
Much of Zuza’s research is based on mountain ranges in Asia. He first traveled to Asia as part of a research trip during his undergraduate years at Cornell University. He went on to study under An Yin, a renowned geologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studied tectonics across Asia. After completing his doctoral degree at UCLA, Zuza started working at NBMG as an assistant professor and became an associate professor in 2022. He spent the fall 2023 semester on sabbatical in southeast China at Zhejiang University.
One of the reasons listed on the citation of Zuza’s award announcement for his nomination and success is his willingness to question “truths” in geology. This is something that his nominator and doctoral thesis advisor An Yin was known for as well. Yin, who passed away unexpectedly last year, was a giant in the field. Yin and Zuza are both celebrated for their unique ideas that connect seemingly disparate information. Yin was a Young Scientist Award winner in 1994.
The Young Scientist Award was established in 1988 by Dr. Fred Donath and his wife. The award includes a gold medal and an honorarium.
“If I look at the list of past honorees, those folks have been inspirational to me,” Zuza said. “These people are doing incredible research and represent the future of our field.”
“This award is truly a great honor and so richly deserved by Dr. Zuza,” Jim Faulds, Director of the NBMG, said. “The previous list of awardees reads like a hall of fame for geoscientists. Dr. Zuza epitomizes this award in so many ways, including a broad spectrum of tremendous contributions to understanding continental deformation and tectonics in Nevada, Asia, and elsewhere, amazing productivity, and a strong commitment to integrity and ethical standards.”