Engineering Meets Surfing for PhD Candidate
For Spicer Bak, being a beach bum and a PhD candidate go hand-in-hand. That is because this Ocean Engineering graduate student studies beach erosion to better understand how we can protect America's coastlines.
An avid surfer, Spicer combines a love for the water with engineering to design artificial reefs that prevent beach erosion without ruining the waves that attract surfers and other vacationers to America's beaches.
These artificial reefs are designed to replace current methods of fighting erosion that involve dumping more sand onto beaches. This approach, called beach replenishment or beach nourishment, can harm the recreational value of a beach by altering the near-shore sea floor and changing the character of waves.
Reefs, on the other hand, can be designed to change the orientation of incoming waves in such a way that sand is pushed back onto the beach but surfers can still catch a break. Such reefs do not introduce excessive foreign material, are more permanent than current replenishment methods, and mimic natural ocean processes.
After earning an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at Villanova, Spicer went to Florida Atlantic University to get a Master's in Ocean Engineering. With his beach bum background, Spicer was "stoked" to apply his engineering skills to protecting the ocean. Spicer learned about Stevens strong presence in coastal engineering through a friend who was conducting research at Davidson Laboratory, and soon afterwards brought his surfboard to New Jersey.
Spicer has not let the demands of a PhD program totally cut out time for surfing, and identifies Long Beach, NY, on Long Island, as his favorite local place to surf. He's also surfed all along the Atlantic Coast, in California, Hawaii, Panama, and Costa Rica, where his all-time favorite surf spot can be found at playa escondida.
Spicer is the first to admit that it is great to be able to combine his interests through a PhD program. "It's almost like a romantic fantasy that I get to do research related to surfing."