Studies how rocks fracture for energy security

Joe Morris

Understanding the behavior of energy in the subsurface—how rocks fracture, how energy travels through the solid earth, and what its signature can tell scientists—is the key to several of Livermore’s security missions. The propagation of waves through the earth provides clues that give away the yield of underground explosions, or the mechanisms of earthquakes. The energy industry needs efficient hydraulic fracturing methods to extract fuels from the subsurface, while sequestering carbon underground depends on the ability of underground reservoirs to accommodate massive volumes of CO2.

After finishing his Ph.D. in mathematics at Monash University, Australia, and a postdoctoral fellowship at Purdue University, Joe Morris came to Livermore for another postdoc. He stayed to perform research on the effects of explosions on underground facilities. Morris enjoyed working within interdisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers, pure and applied, and seeing projects from conception to prototyping to final product. “We work on challenging problems that demand people step outside of their comfort zone,” he says.

Several years later, Morris decided to try something new. He moved to the private sector, where he could apply his abilities to providing technological solutions to a large commercial enterprise. For five years he worked for Schlumberger, the largest oil and gas field services company in the world. “I enjoyed my time there,” he says, “and came to appreciate that the private sector has very different drivers, and a huge spectrum of technical problems to solve.”

Missing the atmosphere of working with a diverse group of scientists to solve broader scientific challenges and address national security needs, he checked back with Livermore, which was beginning to apply its expertise in high-performance computing (HPC) to the problems of the oil and gas industry. He is now the leader of the Laboratory’s Computational Geosciences Group, and the associate program leader for the Energy and Homeland Security Program’s Fossil Energy Solutions, collaborating with industry to address their needs in improving the extraction of resources, and modeling geothermal systems using HPC. Morris conducts national security-related research as well, currently on forensic investigations of illicit underground tunnels. “Livermore has a lot to offer—so many smart people across many disciplines,” says Morris.

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Studies how rocks fracture for energy security