From students to researchers
“I love seeing students make the leap to becoming researchers,” said Kate Maher, an associate professor of Earth system science. “Over the years we have had a large number of undergraduate student researchers in our laboratory and their fearlessness and excitement reminds me of the importance of our shared mission of education and research.”
Maher uses a geochemical approach to study how carbon dioxide reacts when it comes in contact with mineral surfaces underground, including processes that result in the conversion of the greenhouse gas into relatively inert forms, such as carbonate minerals.
“The geologic carbon cycle that governs Earth’s climate over million-year timescales has always fascinated me,” she said. “Briefly, volcanoes emit carbon dioxide at a rate that is largely driven by plate tectonic processes. The carbon dioxide they release dissolves in rainwater that then enters the soil where it mixes with carbon dioxide released from plants and microorganisms. The carbon dioxide promotes the weathering of the rock, releasing calcium and converting the carbon dioxide to bicarbonates that are then transferred to oceans via river systems. When calcium carbonate or limestone becomes insoluble in the oceans, often thanks to calcifying organisms like corals and mollusks, the carbon dioxide is finally locked away.”
Maher teaches a number of classes and short courses on reactive transport and uses human-centered design techniques to explore complex concepts, including designing with big data, communicating environmental issues and increasing the effectiveness of scientific collaborations.