Donor Spotlight: Seth Stein

January 29, 2023
Colleen Newquist
Seth Stein with student coauthors Leah Salditch, Molly  Gallahue, Maddy Lucas, and Jamie Neely presenting their California Historical Intensity Mapping Project results at an American Geophysical Union national meeting.

Over his 42-year career, Hertz Fellow Seth Stein has made seminal contributions to Earth sciences, from studying the motions of Earth’s great plates to current research on forecasting future earthquakes.

He has influenced scores of students as the William Deering Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University and as co-author of a seismology textbook used around the world. His work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the lifetime achievement Walter H. Bucher Medal from the American Geophysical Union in 2022.

Stein is most proud, however, of the work he considers essential to the future of science: serving as a collaborator and mentor to 30 PhD students.

“The reason science is successful is because it’s built on the successive accumulation of knowledge. Everything we do is based on what previous generations have done. Everything we do is hopefully going to spur the next generation. The adviser-student relationship is the single major way to do that,” Stein said.

Stein’s experience as a Hertz Fellow and the freedom it provided was a major influence on his approach to advising.

“I’ve tried to create a similar environment for my graduate students. I advise them, I don’t supervise them. They work with me, not for me. I have them be first authors on papers, so they take the responsibility, the risk, and the credit,” he said.

Stein believes supporting future scientists is the most important way to continue to advance our understanding of the world and develop useful solutions.

“The Hertz Foundation is a model for how it ought to be done,” he said. “Investing in people and giving them total freedom to pursue their science is a very, very good way to make progress.”

This model is why he and his wife, Carol Stein, have been consistent supporters of the Hertz Foundation, including funding a named fellowship in partnership with Hertz Fellow David Cohan and his wife, Sharon Jacobs. The Cohan-Jacobs & Stein Families Fellowship was initially held by Preston Kemeny, who received his PhD in geochemistry from Caltech in 2022 and is now a T.C. Chamberlin and National Science Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago. The fellowship is currently held by Alex Miller, who is studying physics, electrical engineering, and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Miller hopes to further technology for exploring harsh environments both on Earth and in space while looking for ways to increase human sustainability.

“The Hertz Foundation is a model for how it ought to be done. Investing in people and giving them total freedom to pursue their science is a very, very good way to make progress.”
– Seth Stein

Even though it was a financial stretch, the Steins committed to supporting the fellowship because they believe in the continuum of building upon each generation’s success.

“Our nation has a culture of science, technology, and innovation that we need to continue nurturing,” Stein said. “We should all ask, what can I do for the next generation? If we all contribute, we can help.”

Learn more about Seth Stein.

Seth Stein
1975 Hertz Fellow