Academic Programmes - student biographies

NadaNada El Tahir

Ph. D. Candidate
University of the Witwatersrand

Nada El Tahir’s goal of becoming the first Sudanese woman to earn a doctorate in seismology has brought her across the globe to Penn State.

Her journey started at Khartoum University in Sudan where she earned a degree in geology. Then, she was awarded a scholarship for graduate study at the University of Bergen in Norway—the first female scientist from Sudan to study seismology in Norway.

Now she is working on her doctorate as part of the AfricaArray “sandwich” program, studying part of the year at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa and part of the year at Penn State.

“The environment here with an advanced research group offers a lot because we share knowledge, ideas and information,” said El Tahir who arrived at University Park in mid-September.

El Tahir dates her interest in earthquakes to 1993, when, as a student in a lecture hall, she experienced an earthquake measuring 5.6. It was her first—“it shook the table,” she recalled—and it piqued her interest in seismology.

After earning her master’s in seismology in Norway, El Tahir returned home and began working at the Seismological Research Institute in Khartoum where she analyzed data from the country’s seismic station network built in 2003 with help from her Norwegian advisor. Eventually, she joined the Sudan Geological Research Authority, conducting measurement and societal-response studies and giving public lectures on seismology.

At a workshop at Wits in 2008, she was introduced to AfricaArray, and this past September, she began her first year of doctoral study. For her thesis, El Tahir is proposing to investigate the seismic velocity structure of the crust and upper mantle in Sudan. Better information about crustal structure can be used to improve exploration models for oil, gas and minerals.

“I will teach, consult and continue doing research,” said El Tahir of her future plans.

El Tahir’s doctoral study is being funded by a grant from the Schlumberger Foundation’s Faculty for the Future: Supporting Women in Science program.