Paul Hsieh, a research hydrologist with a specialty in underground water reserves, was named 2011 Federal Employee of the Year by the Partnership for Public Service. At an event in Washington, DC, Sept. 15, he was presented with a medal that “recognizes a Federal employee whose professional contributions exemplify the highest attributes of public service.”

After the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2011, Hsieh was called upon to weigh whether a cap that had been installed on the well would hold and stop further leakage or rupture beneath the seabed, causing an even greater disaster. After making complex calculations using modeling software and data sent to him via a cell phone picture, he concluded that the cap would hold. Based on his calculations, federal officials left the cap in place and it has held ever since.

“Paul’s model provided the confidence for the government team to keep the cap and stack closed,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Cook, director of prevention policy, U.S. Coast Guard. “It was a real game changer.”

“Paul was the one person who had the piece to the puzzle,” Cook added. “He had credibility earned over years as a scientist. I don’t think that it could have been done by just anyone.”

It was also Hsieh’s calculation totaling the oil spillage at 4.9 million barrels that the U.S. government is using as a basis for determining damages.

Hsieh has worked at the U.S. Geological Survey since graduating from Princeton with a BSE in civil engineering in 1977 and is in the National Research Program. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona.