A portrait of UC Davis Dean Estella Atekwana standing in a staircase at the SS&H building.
Dean Estella Atekwana. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Estella Atekwana Honored With SEG Award

Estella Atekwana, dean of the UC Davis College of Letters and Science, has received a 2021 Reginald Fessenden Award from the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. The award recognizes her pioneering work in biogeophysics and advancing our understanding of microbial processes beneath the Earth’s surface. Atekwana is the third woman, and first African American woman, to receive this award in 60 years. 

Atekwana is the key originator of biogeophysics, a field that uses geophysical tools to measure changes in earth materials caused by microorganisms. Her research focused on sites contaminated by hydrocarbons, where microbes in soils, rocks and water play an important role in breaking down pollutants. This work also has implications for the search for life in extreme environments.

Atekwana’s contributions to exploration geophysics also include study of continental rift zones, where Earth’s tectonic plates split apart. She is a fellow of the Geological Society of America and recipient of outstanding educator awards from the Association of Women Geoscientists and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. Atekwana received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from Howard University and her doctorate in geophysics from Dalhousie University.

Becky Oskin, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science

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