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Illustrating deep Earth

Sabrina Tecklenburg
(Photo Credit: Sabrina Tecklenburg)

Sabrina Tecklenburg

PhD Student
Geological Sciences

The pursuit of experimentation brought Sabrina Tecklenburg to science. As a child, her mom promoted that inclination by teaching her to make connections about the world with science experiments in the kitchen. What struck Tecklenburg as interesting was all of the steps of experimentation humans had to go through to even begin to understand things that were just happening naturally in the world. “We have to make up complex equations, and spend our entire lives studying, to figure out what nature even is and how it works.”

Her combined passions for all sciences – biology, chemistry and physics – eventually led her to study geophysics as an undergrad and then turn to mineral physics for a graduate program. “I took a mineralogy course and was so enamored when I learned about the geometries of minerals and that these tiny molecules can create such incredible structures.” Now, as a PhD student in the Geological Sciences Department, Tecklenburg studies minerals in extreme conditions, such as high pressure and high temperature. She does experiments using diamond anvil cells that take minerals to super high pressures and then uses x-rays to probe the structure of the material at these pressures. What does she learn from her experiments? “By studying how these deep Earth minerals work, we learn more about what Earth’s interior is like. Our planet can create so many different and amazing materials with its internal pressure alone!”

But Tecklenburg knows her research can be harder for some people to relate to. “We can’t actually experience the center of the Earth. We can only do scientific experiments to make theories about what it’s like.” That’s why she began learning to communicate her science in other ways. Tecklenburg is a hobby artist who uses her iPad to illustrate some aspects of her work. How did she begin? She drew her brother’s cat, named Citrine after the mineral, in mineral form. “I’ve always been a very visual learner so that’s how I got started with drawing minerals. It helps me to grasp my science more fully. I think it also helps people who don’t study mineral physics to understand something else about it.”

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