The 2020 Louis Néel Medal is awarded to Wen-lu Zhu for her exceptional contributions to understanding coupling between fluids and rock deformation and in recognition of her role in promoting women in science and rock physics globally.
Driven by an interest in how fluids and rock microstructure control the strength and permeability of rocks in the Earth’s crust and upper mantle, Wenlu Zhu started her career in Earth sciences as a rock physicist. Using exceptional experimental data on the deformation of porous sandstones, she delineated the mechanisms of brittle faulting in these rocks and quantified how the evolution of deformation and permeability were correlated.
Later, Zhu investigated the modelling of flow and damage in various rocks, including seafloor vents and participated in several oceanic expeditions (Galapagos, Nankai Trough, East Pacific Rise, Hawaii). She plays a particularly important role in the rock physics community because she is among the few scientists who work on both oceanic and continental rocks, linking mechanisms of deformation to geodynamic processes.
In 2011, Zhu was the first to apply a technique of X-ray synchrotron time-lapse microtomography to characterise partially molten rocks, a study published in Science that attracted much attention within the community. More recently, she characterised how fluid pressure controls the slowness of rupture in rocks and proposed a new mechanical interpretation for slow earthquakes. Zhu published this discovery in a series of articles co-authored with two post-doctorate fellows who have both gone on to obtain leading research positions.
Zhu has given great service to the rock physics community, including serving as the Associate Editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research and Chair of the Steering Committee “Physical Properties of Earth Materials” of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). In 2019, AGU’s Mineral and Rock Physics community elected her president of their section. Zhu organised the Gordon Conference on Rock Deformation in 2014. Her action at this conference was recognised when the conference board awarded her a High Performance Rating Award due to her meeting being evaluated in the top 5% of Gordon conferences of that year.
Zhu’s scientific excellence has been recognised through several national and international awards and fellowships, including an Outstanding Student award at the AGU conference in 1997, a Rock Mechanics Research Award in 2007, and visiting professorships at Stanford University and the University of Oslo. She has also won a highly competitive CAREER Award from the US National Science Foundation.
Because of her truly exceptional accomplishments in rock physics, her continuous curiosity and open-mindedness towards new disciplines, her ability to make discoveries beyond the frontiers of science, her positions as a role model for women scientists in rock physics and more generally in Earth sciences, and her determination to create new interactions between scientists, Wenlu Zhu is a truly worthy recipient of the EGU Louis Néel Medal for 2020.