The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Harry Yeh Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

September 22, 2014


“Furthering the Quest to Understand Tsunamis”  September 22, 2014  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Yeh discusses his family background and upbringing in Japan, his early schooling in economics, the academic environment in which he worked while in Japan, and his decision to move to the United States. From there Yeh recounts the process by which he chose to change his name, classes that he took at UCLA, and his acceptance into Washington State University.

After sharing his memories of adjusting to Pullman and completing two degrees at WSU, Yeh describes the family circumstances that led him to take a job with Bechtel, Inc. in the San Francisco Bay area, rather than pursuing a doctorate at Colorado State University. He describes the engineering work that he conducted for Bechtel and then recalls his decision to begin Ph.D. studies at UC-Berkeley. In remembering his Berkeley experience, Yeh discusses his mentors, his initial research on diffusion-dispersion problems, his shift in focus to ocean waves, and the experience of writing his doctoral dissertation.

Yeh next describes his obtaining a faculty position at the University of Washington, his early wave work there, important colleagues and collaborators, and his move to research on tsunamis.

A major focus of the interview is Yeh's description of his field work surveying tsunamis, including his first experiences doing so in Nicaragua, the methods that were used, and later surveys conducted around the world. Yeh notes the uptick of interest and participation in the field that occurred throughout the 1990s. He then shares his personal experience of learning about the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, initially monitoring it from afar, and later traveling to Japan to conduct field work in Fukushima and elsewhere.

The session concludes with Yeh's memories of leaving Washington for OSU, his thoughts on the importance of the Hinsdale Wave Research facility, a description of his current research on theories of amplification in tsunami waves, and his hopes that academic research might be applied to prevent future tsunami disasters.