JOHN O. AJAYI, Organic Geochemist

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hello, I am John Ajayi, currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut (UConn). Prior to joining UConn, I obtained a Bachelor of Technology degree in Applied Geology from the highly reputable Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) in Nigeria. I am a huge football fan (soccer in the U.S.), spending my free weekends watching top games in the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, and some Major League Soccer (I do not really have a favorite football club I support, I just enjoy each game, wishing the better team luck and enjoying the upset drama that occurs in sports). A good part of my week is spent reading books written by top-selling authors on different aspects of life, career, economics, finance, psychology, family, and some biographies. This also determines the kind of movies I watch. I mostly find documentaries interesting. I also spend time visiting friends and colleagues. It is one of the ways I provide and get support as a graduate student far away from my home country. 

Background has blue sky with clouds and a layered rock wall with vegetation. The foreground has an individual with a hat and camera in front of a fence.
John standing across one of the sedimentary succession in Taiwan.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? As an organic geochemist, I explore geochemical patterns of organic biomarkers to study different Earth processes. The approach to my studies is very interdisciplinary, combining knowledge and techniques of geology, chemistry, biology, and geographic information systems (GIS). These allow me to integrate these data to reconstruct the history of the Earth’s environment, and some changes in the Earth’s dynamics. I prepare rock and soil samples for organic biomarker extraction and subsequent compound-specific isotopic analysis. I use the Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer to analyze the Hydrogen (δ2H) and Carbon (δ13C) isotope ratio of organic compounds (such as alkanes, and fatty acids) produced by plants and preserved in sedimentary archives. These are utilized as proxies to reconstruct paleohydrology, paleoclimate, and other paleoenvironmental changes that might have occurred during a given geologic time either due to an external or internal driving process. My current study involves reconstructing the paleoelevation of a tropical mountain currently growing due to an ongoing collision between two tectonic plates. 

Background is a wetland with grassy vegetation, water cutting through and rocks scattered around. Foreground is an individual in a hat with a camera and back pack scrambling up a bank.
Getting samples may involve some rugged terrain, climbing steep surfaces, but the science is worth it.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? I chose to study Geology in college specifically because I am very adventurous, I love being outdoors, exploring nature and travel. In fact, I was almost going to train to become a pilot with the dream to travel round the world and view scenic landscape and geomorphic features from the cockpit. This ambition metamorphosed to a closer interaction with the Earth, studying the processes that shaped the landscapes and reconstructing the history of our dynamic planet. During my third year in college, I enrolled in a Geochemistry class which exposed me to different aspects of this subdiscipline of Earth Sciences. What I find most fascinating about geochemistry is the idea that every process leaves a geochemical signal that if studied critically can be uncovered and reconstructed. Thus, I see geochemistry as a versatile tool to tackle any problem, ranging from environmental pollution to hydrology (and groundwater hydrology), energy and mineral exploration (such as in petroleum exploration, and metallic ore deposit exploration), and paleoclimate reconstruction. This informed the decision to become a geochemist. I have also become interested in studies related to the origin of life, particularly exploring the chemosynthetic pathway. This could provide more clues for the exploration of life on other planets in our solar system. I follow scientific discoveries from the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) expeditions which explore scientific curiosities below the seafloor.

Background is a hazy cloudy sky with heavily vegetated mountains with a river cutting through them. Foreground is an individual on a bridge overlooking the landscape.
Enjoying the beautiful landscape of Taiwan on a suspension bridge with the mountains in the background.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? My current study on reconstructing the paleoelevation of mountain belts is fundamental to various aspects of the Earth’s dynamic systems. To simply state it, the topography of a mountain represents a dynamic balance between deep Earth mantle processes driving plate tectonics, rock exhumation and surface uplift, and surface processes of weathering, erosion, and denudation which cause a reduction/change in surface elevation due to re-distribution of mass, these two major components are modulated by a third major component- climate. Silicate weathering in tandem with carbonate precipitation in the marine environment has been shown to facilitate CO2 drawdown in geologic time. Therefore, generating records of past topography will allow us to constrain the feedback among these (tectonics, erosion, and climate). We can estimate how much CO2 has been introduced into the atmosphere due to the exhumation of buried organic carbon in rocks, mantle degassing via volcanoes, and other tectonic processes, and as well estimate the amount of CO2 drawdown as fresh mineral surfaces are exposed to weathering reactions during exhumation and subsequent removal by erosion due to steeper gradient as rocks uplift. The product of the balance between all these is the topography of a mountain. The mountain itself has a considerable effect on both local and regional climates by serving as an orographic barrier, inducing more precipitation on the orographic front of the mountain and aridity on the leeward side, and also causing a change in atmospheric circulation patterns. Records from my studies will be valuable input in paleoclimate modeling, especially as we face an uncertain future of climate change. 

Background is of a generic conference hall. Foreground is a poster on a large display board during what appears to be a poster presentation session at a conference. An individual stands to the right of the poster in a jacket with a folder.
John presenting results from a local study of periglacial features in New England at NE GSA section conference at Virginia, USA.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? I will leave two of my favorite quotes to inspire upcoming scientists. “Persistence breaks resistance” (original source unknown) and “Curiosity and perseverance matter” (Ben Cichy). Due to word count constraints, I will not be able to share stories to really explain the lessons these quotes impressed on me in my journey as a scientist. First, be very curious, challenge everything, and ask questions (why, when, how, what if, what about this, is there another way to do what better, any other explanation for why? etc.) According to Thomas Edison- “There is a better way to do it- Find it”, so follow science perseveringly. With thousands of failed experiments, he did not give up, but eventually solved the puzzle, and became one of the greatest inventors. Ben shared the story of his struggles as an engineering student in college, but his curiosity and perseverance as an engineer have helped him land two spacecraft on Mars. As my advisor reiterated countless times to me, there is no right or wrong answer and no one right answer, do not think as a student. Think like a scientist. This is something I wished I had known or understood earlier before starting my graduate program. I encourage everyone to enjoy the process of becoming the kind of scientist they want to be. 

Laboratory setting with a fumehood with glassware set up at the back. The fume hood is half open and an individual is extracting something from a sample wearing a lab coat, and other personal protective gear.
John working on Taiwan rock samples, extracting organic biomarkers for compound specific isotope analysis in the lab.
Background is a laboratory room of people in discussion. Foreground is an individual holding a segment of core up to the person taking the photo.
John at the IODP Gulf Coast Core Repository at College Station, Texas. The core shows a clear  boundary during an impact event which caused one of the major extinction event.

Jacqueline S. Silviria, PhD student, research & teaching assistant

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Greetings! I’m Jacqueline Silviria. I’m originally from Los Angeles, California. I received my BS at the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology, my MS at the University of New Mexico, and am currently working on my PhD at the University of Washington, Seattle. I’ve been a fan of Japanese animation for about a decade, and I collect out-of-print DVD and BluRay boxsets of 1990s-early 2000s series, as well as rare figurines and statues. Recently, I also started collecting 1990s animation cels from series in my media library. Expect me to visit every major North American Japantown and Chinatown at least once in search of vintage merch! I also seek out rare natural history books and articles from the early-mid 20th century, especially those from China, Japan, and the former Soviet Union. That hobby has become much less expensive thanks to internet archives and interlibrary loan services!

Holding an earliest Paleocene “archaic ungulate” jaw from the Burke collections (probably Mimatuta, but I still need to work out the exact species) in the new photogrammetry lab at the UW Life Science Building. The jaw was found by Wilson Mantilla lab alumn Luke Weaver (now at Kent State University) in 2019. The whole animal probably weighed no more than 1-2 kg, about the size of a ferret!

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I’m starting my second year as a PhD student in the UW Department of Earth & Space Science, working in Gregory Wilson Mantilla’s lab in the Department of Biology and the Burke Museum of Natural History & Science. My main research interests are the morphometry, phylogenetic systematics, and biogeography of ungulates (hooved mammals). I’m currently focused on the postcanine dental anatomy of the earliest ungulates in North America, from the aftermath of the Cretaceous/Paleogene (K/Pg) mass extinction. I employ photogrammetry and micro-CT scanning to make 3D models of ungulate jaws and teeth, for collection of shape data important for distinguish different species. I’m planning to print 3D models for use in our Evolution of Mammals and their Ancestors undergraduate course, as well as public outreach events at the Burke Museum. Every summer, I help the Burke’s Hell Creek Project organize and instruct the DIG Field School, which brings K-12 teachers to our K/Pg field sites in Montana, so they bring back the wonders of vertebrate paleontology to their own classrooms. I also recently started The Last King of the Jungle Discord sever for professional researchers to discuss the latest news in mammal paleontology. 

Background includes people and their field gear and a rock outcrop. Foreground has an individual in field attire pointing at a specific layer of rock while looking at the camera.
Here I am at an exposure of the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary at Lerbekmo Hill in Hell Creek State Park, Montana. I’m pointing to a thin reddish-brown clay layer, rich in iridium from the Chicxulub bolide impact 66 million years ago. We dug this section for the DIG teachers to take their own pictures!

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My first job in paleontology was as a student curator for the invertebrate paleontology teaching collections at New Mexico Tech and the New Mexico Bureau of Geology. It was through this position that I met Thomas Williamson at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, who noticed my enthusiasm for mammalian evolution and systematics; I would later work as a curatorial assistant at the museum while working on my Masters. Since then, my favorite part of research has been collections curation and management, because it allows me to look at material that would otherwise be forgotten. I especially enjoy specimen photography and am quite proficient at focus-stacking images of mammalian teeth (I thank Tom for teaching how). I also taught myself computer software for cladistic analyses of evolutionary relationships; I’m most familiar with the maximum parsimony approach, but I’m hoping to get more fluent in maximum likelihood methods. Such analyses permit a get fresh, quantitative perspective on species and taxa that may have been ignored since their original description, and thus not securely placed in the tree of life.

But while I consider myself a collections-based “armchair” researcher, I also enjoy paleontological fieldwork for the simple pleasure of visiting exotic and remote localities I normally wouldn’t have the time or money to go to. Picking live anthills for mammal teeth and other small fossils is a favorite task of fieldwork, if only for the adrenaline rush of racing against the clock before the ants unplug their nest! And even if I have a bad day at a fossil site, I know I will have learned enough about the geology of the area that it’s worth going back the next year.

I still collect old scientific articles and books on occasion. Here I’m holding an original printing of William Matthew’s Paleocene Faunas of the San Juan Basin, New Mexico, auctioned at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s 2022 meeting in Toronto. If I remember correctly, this copy was at one point owned by Everett Olson. Matthew’s monograph remains the go-to source of information on many early Paleocene North American ungulate mammals. Photo credit: Thomas Williamson & Sarah Shelley.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? As a transgender woman, I heed the call to serve as a good role model for other LGBTIQA+ students and early career researchers in geology and paleontology, especially given the current political climate in North America and Europe. I think great strides have been taken at LGBTIQA+ representation and equality at paleontological societies compared to other scientific institutions, but more work needs to be done so that we don’t backtrack and repeat the mistakes of the past. Additionally, I’m the first person in my immediate family, trans or otherwise, to pursue a PhD degree.

More importantly, as a collections-based researcher, I feel a responsibility to preserve and protect our public cultural and scientific heritage, particularly when many institutions face the threat of defunding or even privatization. The material housed in natural history museum and university collections comprise an irreplaceable knowledge base for systematic research that permits broader scale “big picture” analyses, like ecological studies on the effects of climate change. I hope that my future outreach efforts online and at the Burke Museum will promote collections curation and management, especially at paleontological institution, so up-and-coming students will see at as an invaluable public service and not simply “rock hounding” or “stamp collecting”.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My advice is to be flexible with approaches and interests in the very beginning, but later consider specializing in what gives you joy and what you excel in. When exploring research programs in your field, acknowledge that ideas and procedures evolve over time, and that absolute certainty is impossible in the natural sciences, but still work towards honoring and preserving the accomplishments of your academic predecessors for future generations. In other words, be anti-authoritarian but authoritative (to paraphrase Niels Bonde’s retrospective on Colin Patterson). And do not shun systematics/taxonomy because it can be difficult for poorly studied groups of organisms; without it, the language of science risks becoming inscrutable garble!

Learn more about Jacqueline on their department webpage.

Adam Moore, Vertebrate Paleontology Master’s Student

background contains an off white museum cabinet with thin drawers. foreground is Adam, an individual with glasses and brown hair, holding up a visiting researcher name badge
Taking a break from field work to look at Falcarius vertebrae as a visiting researcher in the Natural History Museum of Utah’s (UMNH) paleontology collections.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! I am Adam Moore. I am a 1st year MS graduate student at North Carolina State University. Originally, I am from Kill Devil Hills, NC (a part of the Outer Banks of coastal North Carolina). This past May, I finished up my Bachelor’s Degree from North Carolina State University with a BS in Geology and two Minors in Biological Sciences and Paleontology. When not working on school or research, I enjoy reading (typically about dinosaurs!), photography, hiking, camping, visiting museums, and traveling. In fact, I love these so much that, after field work in Utah this past summer, I decided to drive back to North Carolina from Utah so that I could visit a few of the National Parks and museums along the way! 

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do?

I am a Master’s student in Geology working on becoming a vertebrate paleontologist with a focus on dinosaurs. As of now, since I am just starting out, I do an assortment of things related to paleontology. Currently, I have a few different research projects I am working on along with my Master’s Thesis. 

During my Bachelor’s Degree, in 2022, I started a research project in the biology department at my school that involved identifying fossilized shark teeth from one specific site. This is something that I am currently still working on. At that time, I was also involved in an internship at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in the Paleontology Lab where I worked on an assortment of different projects around the lab. I eventually started a project that developed further into a research project. The research involved the vertebrae of an early-diverging therizinosaur known as Falcarius utahensis to understand parts of its ontogeny. To my delight, I will have the chance to present my research on Falcarius at the 2023 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in the form of a poster. 

Background contains light colored sandstone rock with blue sky in the far back. Foreground contains Adam with windblown hair, sunglasses, and a smile. Notably Adam's shirt is covered in dust and dirt from a day of fieldwork.
Extremely dirty wearing a no-longer-white shirt in the badlands of Utah during paleontology field work.

This past August, at the start of the school semester, I began working on my Master’s Thesis. The research I am doing for my MS involves a mix of paleoclimate and dinosaurs. I will be looking at data from a few different sites in Western North America from the Cretaceous Period to better understand the climates of those regions to see how it impacted dinosaurs from Laramidia. 

Outside of direct research, I have also been fortunate enough to be involved in paleontology in other ways as well through the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. For the last two summers (2022 and 2023), I have done field work in the Cedar Mountain Formation in Utah. Participating in field work is, in my opinion, one of the coolest aspects of paleontology. I mean, when you uncover a new fossil, you get to be the first human to ever see those fossils! It is always great being out there finding new material (or at least trying to find new material)! 

Background has dark gray clouds with some falling rain. Light tan sandstone rocks cover the landscape. Foreground has Adam with windblown hair, sunglasses, a rain coat, and other field gear.
During paleontology field work in Utah preparing for a summer afternoon rainstorm.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? Simple curiosity, wonder, and excitement in the unknown drove my interest in science. I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember (specifically anything involving dinosaurs). I have always been a collector of sorts, and due to that, basically since I could walk, I was always searching the ground or combing the shore for interesting things to take back home. Growing up on the coastal community of the Outer Banks, I would go out to find interesting rocks, bones, shells, and, if I were lucky, fossils all along the beach and take them back to my home to clean them up and organize them accordingly. I was, as many kids are, a “dinosaur kid.” I was absolutely fascinated by them growing up and just never grew out of it. Based on picture evidence, since the time I could develop interests, I was never found without a dinosaur toy (or two or maybe even a whole backpack…) or book in hand everywhere I went. I knew from an early age that I wanted to grow up to become a paleontologist specializing in dinosaurs. This became extra solidified when I saw my first dinosaur mount as a young child at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. I remember reading all of the plaques and looking at all of the specimens in their dinosaur section with it culminating in the glass dome encasing the Acrocanthosaurus frozen in time and thinking something along the lines of “yeah, this is exactly what I want to do” while looking up at the massive dinosaur in absolute awe. Now being involved with the lab at this same museum, it is a full circle moment for me that I don’t take for granted. 

Honestly, those moments of curiosity and wonderment are some of my favorite parts about being a scientist. Being curious by asking questions about dinosaurs (and paleontology, in general) and answering them (attempting to, at least) through field work, data collecting and analyzing, and research always excites me. We are figuring things out about our incredible planet’s past, and it always astounds me how much we know and, at the same time, how much more there is for us to learn. Filling in those gaps is something that drives me in my research and desire to be a paleontologist. Also, communicating that knowledge to other people is something else I personally enjoy. It is always rewarding to see their curiosity and wonderment grow as you relay information to them about the past in engaging and understandable ways.

Background has blue sky, a tall mountain range. Closer to the foreground is a gravely slab. Adam is in the foreground is Adam in a hat and sunglasses with a smile.
Enjoying a hike in McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains to look for Permian fossils with his classmates (not pictured) on the North Carolina State University’s Geology Fall Break trip.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming scientists? My first piece of advice for up-and-coming scientists would be to get involved in any way you can. Talk to your local museum about internships and volunteer opportunities that you could be a part of. There might even be a possibility to volunteer out in the field with other paleontologists too. This is a good way to figure out what you like and what you do not like. Sometimes, knowing what you don’t like can be just as valuable as knowing what you do like. If you find that you do not like certain aspects of paleontology, don’t get discouraged. For example, I know a few paleontologists who don’t consider themselves “field paleontologists”, and that is perfectly fine because there are other opportunities in this field that do not require them to go out into the field and they are still great scientists. If you find something that you really like, try getting a mentor or advisor that can further help you too. Getting good mentors are one of the best things you can do when you are first starting out. 

Another piece of advice I have is to really dive into the available literature. This could include things like books, papers, articles, among other things. By delving into the literature, you can see what other paleontologist are doing and what sort of issues they are tackling. This can help you better understand the field of paleontology and to develop research questions of your own too. If you find something you are interested in and you want to know more, try reaching out to the authors. This is a good way to virtually network with other scientists in the field and, while it can be intimidating, the worst thing that can happen is that they do not respond. I also want to say to not get discouraged if something does not happen the way you planned or would have liked for it to go. Sometimes there are setbacks to your career plans, but there will always be more opportunities in the future!

Alejandro Lopez-Vaca, Undergraduate Student in Mechanical Engineering and Biological Sciences

Background is a classroom or lab setting and foreground is a person in flannel holding a cast of a fossil specimen.
Me in the fossil lab of the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera holding a field jacket that I prepared that hasn’t been opened since 1994. It is from an unidentified mammal from the Middle Pleistocene Epoch.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hello from down yonder! My name is Alejandro Lopez-Vaca. I am a 3rd year undergraduate student studying Mechanical Engineering and Biological Sciences at the University of California, Merced which is located in Merced, California. I’m guilty of being a big dinosaur lover and of many ancient fauna (I love the Paleozoic almost just as much as the Mesozoic). My passions/interests include dinosaur and vertebrate paleontology, evolution, functional and comparative anatomy, mathematics, applied engineering, and biomechanics. When I have free time I enjoy sitting down with a piece of paper and writing down my thoughts and/or having conversations with myself on my life, topics of interest, or ideas as it helps me destress and come to my own conclusion on various things. When I’m not being a “philosopher”, you’ll find me reading dinosaur or paleontology books, paleontology literature, and biology books, playing with my Halo figures making stop motions, or playing Halo: The Master Chief Collection. When I’m outside (which is pretty often) I’m usually foraging, taking notes of things I don’t know in my environment, enjoying the beautiful nature in the area, and catching small animals. I also volunteer at a small paleontology museum called the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County preparing fossils for them, helping with events, and giving the occasional tour of the museum.

Me holding the holotype maxilla of my favorite dinosaur, Torvosaurus tanneri, in the storage room of the BYU Museum of Paleontology feeling like a little kid.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I consider myself a paleontologist or a paleontology student at heart while being an engineering student in application. I have experience and plenty of understanding of the concepts of engineering. The skills I have gained in engineering have greatly helped me expand into areas of paleontology that deal with the mechanics, biomechanics, and movements of systems. This has led me to study the biomechanics and functional anatomy of dinosaurs and bats, with plans to explore other groups. I am currently slowly working on a personal research project that deals with the bite force and skull function of a large theropod dinosaur, Torvosaurs tanneri. As I slowly work on that, I am researching the function of bat skulls using engineering methods like Finite Elements Analysis to test the breaking point and limits of bat skulls. I have also done fieldwork with the BYU Museum of Paleontology where we found a great quantity of dinosaur fossils, which I have been invited to continue next year.

Me after my first day of field work with the BYU Museum of Paleontology, very happy and proud, stand only a few inches from the bone layer.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? How I got interested in science was through the toy dinosaurs I convinced my mother to get from a Dollar Tree. I was curious as to what they were and thankfully my mother delivered. As poorly as these toys look to me now, yes I still have them, they were my world to me at the age of 4. My mother noticed I enjoyed them a lot and rented a documentary called Walking with Dinosaurs. Since then I haven’t been the same, it hooked me and it was made clear to me that I wanted to be a paleontologist. With this goal in mind, I consumed any paleontology content I could get my hands on, one of which was the limited series Monsters Resurrected. The show greatly inspired me to pursue functional anatomy and biomechanics as I found it fascinating that they figured out ways to reconstruct the motion of once long-dead animals. My favorite part of science is the collaboration and exploration of the unknown. Most of my favorite moments in science are when I am under the sun in the heat of day with fellow peers excavating dinosaurbones not knowing if we will find something new. As well as discussions of research like “Why are these groups of bats so diverse and what parameters can we use to try to get data that will be useful to gain an interpretation of that question?” with friends I do research within the lab. It’s moments like those that keep me going and motivated.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? My work hasn’t yet reached the level to actually contribute to science and thus impact society, but as I said, yet. However, I believe my work with the BYU Museum of Paleontology has impacted the community there as I helped collect new material for a dinosaur that needs studying and load heavy sauropod cervical vertebrae to be CT scanned for the thesis of, now a good friend, a master’s student. I feel that most of my contribution has been through teaching and sharing information on paleontology and biology. I have seen the eyes of kids light up as I show them a fossil, kids deeply impassioned by the words that come after that and the questions that flow in afterward. I’ve also seen people get a spark of curiosity when I show them my fossils and explain what they are and how we know what they are. In this way, this is how I contribute to society by sparking curiosity, helping science, and educating people.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Some advice I wish I had known before going into science was to be patient, to take action even in uncertainty, and to make your own choice. In my experience it is important to take action however it is equally important to be patient. It is better to do a little work or do things even when you know they won’t be optimal consistently while waiting for things to fall into place than to try to rush things in one go. Taking action in uncertainty is equally important as well, because sometimes you want to do something and you don’t know how it will turn out; science will test your courage and leap to take a new opportunity or think outside the box while remaining consistent in showing up to do the work despite the quality of it will greatly benefit you in the long run to gain success. Finally, the advice from a mentor I greatly hold to heart is to stay open-minded. There are so many fields and ideas, explore them all and read widely, and it gives you drive and knowledge on where you want to go. I believe that is what is most important, for you to figure out where you want to go, no books or person will ever tell you that, so make sure you choose a path that you care about.

Me after my last day of field work with the BYU Museum of Paleontology, holding a pickaxe with honor and pride after finding new material for a dinosaur and working hard in the burning heat.

Aarya Joshi, Recent Graduate, BS-MS in Biology

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  Hello, this is Aarya, a recent BS-MS graduate from IISER Mohali, India. I am originally from Pune, a city in India. At the age of 8, like every other kid from my school, I was sent to attend Kathak classes (which is one of the Indian classical dance forms). My status as a student of this dance form continues to this day, albeit with some off periods. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I love to dance and watch other dance performances including various dance forms other than Kathak. Apart from that, I once was an avid reader of the genre fiction/ fantasy with a mandatory ‘Harry Potter’ phase. I have also read multiple historical novels as well as fiction and biographies in my mother tongue, Marathi. These days I am trying to get back into reading, which unfortunately hasn’t had a high success rate. Nowadays, you can often find me watching some TV show, the occasional K-Drama and reality TV, or watching many movie review videos/ movie commentaries in my spare time.

Background is rock bedrock. Foreground has a woman in field attire crouching near a layer that contains fossils material. Bones are on the ground next to her.
Fieldwork at Hathnora, Madhya Pradesh, India.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? And what is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? As mentioned above, I have recently graduated from IISER Mohali with a degree in Biology. My journey into the field of palaeontology is a little interesting. As an undergraduate in my college, I did not have a clue about which subject I wanted to pursue as a student of science. After stumbling through a small project in astrophysics and contemplating a career in developmental biology while simultaneously going through a pandemic without any lab exposure, I came across a few courses on archaeology. I had always held a fascination for this field ever since a field trip to an archaeological museum (Deccan College Post Graduate University, Pune) in sixth grade. After attending these courses, I initially decided to pursue a thesis project in archaeology. But given my background in biology, I was encouraged by my guide to give the field of Paleontology a try. Therefore, I first stumbled into this field as a final-year student at my university. 

My project was focused on a Proboscidean assemblage from the Narmada Valley in India. During this project, I learned how to extract fossils, how to prepare them, and how to document them. I also performed a taphonomic analysis on these fossils. This whole experience made me extremely intrigued about this field and the different questions that can be pursued through this. The sole fact that I was handling something that was present on this earth thousands of years ago and was being used to understand the past environments was fascinating enough for me to decide this field as my career. After my graduation, in an attempt to increase my exposure to palaeontology/ palaeobiology, I am doing an internship at the paleobiology lab at IISER Pune and working on molluscs and some marine mammal fossils. I eventually want to pursue a PhD in this field. I currently find myself interested in looking at the evolution of organisms through time and the different ecological drivers affecting this process but at the same time am looking forward to exploring many aspects of the field as I proceed further with my education.

Do you conduct outreach, and if so, who do you communicate science to? Outreach in this field is something that I would like to take a more active part in. As a university student, I was part of a student-initiated group which focused on some science outreach activities. As a part of these activities, we would go and teach Middle school students from surrounding migrant worker communities (this activity was in collaboration with another NGO called ‘Free Fragrance Tuitions’). We also held book donation drives for nearby government schools. I was also part of the display held by my lab (the Paleo-archeology lab at IISER Mohali) for the Foundation Day of our college. During this activity, we were able to display and give information about different vertebrate fossils to school kids belonging to different grades. I also worked as a junior editor for our college magazine, Manthan, I also wrote an article about a lake filled with human bones from Uttarakhand (Roopkund) in Marathi as part of the initiative to make the content of the magazine more accessible. Currently, I am trying to figure out any other possible avenues for outreach, specifically in this field. One day, I would really like to work on converting the content available about this field and various discoveries related to this field into different regional languages as this will make the field more approachable for many students from different regions.

Aarya and students sitting in a circle looking at books and seeming to have a discussion in the foreground. More students and instructors in the background.
During a teaching session for students at Free Fragrance Tuitions

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? I don’t think I am in any position to be giving advice to anybody as I myself am an up-and-coming scientist. But I guess the one thing that I would like to say, at least based on my experience is that it is very rare that someone will know what they want to pursue as a scientist from the get-go. Most of the time, you will have to go through many trials and errors until something sticks. This period of discovery can often be challenging and a little depressing. Therefore, not getting discouraged is the biggest key to establishing yourself as someone who would like to pursue science for the rest of their lives. So let’s just work towards that together!

Arianna Valentina Del Gaudio, Ph.D. Candidate at University of Graz (Austria)

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi everyone! My name is Arianna Valentina Del Gaudio, currently a PhD student at the University of Graz, Austria. I am originally from Italy, where I achieved my bachelor’s degree in Geology at University of Parma. After that, I moved to Birmingham (UK) where I got my master’s degree in Applied and Petroleum Micropaleontology. Besides science, I like reading (mainly thriller books) and listening to indie rock music. Another way for me to relax and stimulate my creativity is baking. My colleagues are always happy when they see me arriving at the office with a cake in my hands! I also enjoy being physically active, so I spend a lot of time hiking together with my dog Coconut. 

Woman surrounded by trees on a path wearing exercise clothes and a backpack. A dog in facing forward on a leash.
backgound has red brick buildings of a campus. foreground has a woman in black graduation regalia

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? My current Ph.D. research focuses on IODP core samples recovered from Fantangisña serpentinite mud volcano, located in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean (Mariana region). My principal aim is to provide an integrated biostratigraphy, based on planktonic foraminifera and calcareous nannofossils, in order to assess the possible age of the mud flow activity in the area. This will help to define the timing and evolution of submarine serpentinite mud volcanoes. Another important point of my research project is to obtain new insights into planktonic and benthic foraminifera assemblages, adaptation and ecology in such an extreme deep marine environment! For example, I can understand how the benthic community is affected by the mud production and how the assemblages behave prior/post and during the mud activity. The study of the planktonic foraminiferal assemblage is important as well! In fact, it allows us to reconstruct the past oceanic conditions in the region. Specifically, I am looking at changes of the ocean thermocline in relation to the ENSO climatic phases (El Niño/ La Niña). 

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? Since I was a child, I developed a strong fascination for the natural world. My passion for nature began when, every week-end, my grandfather was taking my brother and I to hike in the woods, teaching us everything he knew about the places we were visiting. This is how I learned to observe the world around us. Growing up, my curiosity for the beauty and complexity of nature led me to undertake a course of study in geology. All this brought me where I am right now! 

Woman standing with arms spread wide in between two large shelves of archived drill cores
Woman in mask in a lab setting sampling sections of a drill core

There are so many aspects I like about having a career in science! First of all, working in science means you continue learning and exploring every day. In fact, so far, we have learned a lot about how the natural world works at present time but… things get more complicated when you attempt to perform environmental reconstructions in the past. Every new dataset is challenging but fascinating, as it gives us the possibility to understand a bit better the environmental conditions in the past. 

Moreover, as scientists, we have the opportunities to travel a lot and work in international research teams. For example, I recently joined the IODP Expedition 391 as a biostratigrapher. Our expedition aimed to recover sediment cores and the igneous basement from the Tristan-Gough-Walvis Ridge hotspot track in the Southeastern Atlantic Ocean. 

During these two months in the middle of the ocean, it was exciting to experience how an international team of scientists cooperated together to answer some of our most pressing questions in the earth and climate sciences field. I believe it was a vibrant and highly stimulating environment where a young researcher like me can learn new skills from an experienced group of scientists and work with them to add new pieces to the great puzzle of the geoscience’s world. 

Conference setting with a woman at the podium providing a presentation while audience members look on

What advice do you have for up-and-coming scientists? A first tip for those who want to approach research is to mainly focus on the scientific topics that strongly interest you, because being passionate about something always pushes you to give your best. As a scientist, you also have to be patient as you may experience difficulties in running experiments or interpreting data. In these tough moments, believing in yourself and your abilities will be the key to success. Last but not least, try to develop good communication skills, which are essential to promote your research to the public and to better cooperate with your peers around the world.  

Panorama landscape with a woman laying on rock overlooking a body of water.
Myself at Kalbarri National Park (Australia) admiring the astonishing landscape.

Geology of Oregon Series: Part 2: Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Sarah here– this post is a continuation in a series about a recent trip I made to Oregon, USA. Check out the first post, on the geology of hot springs, here

It can be hard to believe that the lush, gorgeous forests that I was hiking in to get to the hot springs were only a short way away from the desert of Oregon- but it is! I visited the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which is separated into a few different areas. Arguably, the most famous of the areas is the Painted Hills Unit, which contains amazing sedimentary rocks and fossils. 

The Painted Hills are aptly named- the large hills of clays that preserve magnificent and diverse bands of colors (Figure 1). These hills are remnants of volcanic explosions just over 30 million years ago, when nearby volcanoes were erupting. The ash and fine-grained material from these volcanic eruptions were carried by wind and deposited in this area- over long periods of volcanism, it added up to quite a lot of ash! High volumes of volcanic ash can spread a long distance over wind- we know this, because we have witnessed this in human history. For example, when Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980, ash from this event was found hundreds of miles away (though most of ash, like the Painted Hills, fell within a far shorter distance of just a few miles from the eruption site). Over millions of years, the materials within ash (like glass particles and different minerals) can alter into clays, hence why we see clays today! 

A landscape of hills on a goegeous sunny day. The hills look painted- there are bands of colors running horizontally across them in shades of green, yellow, and red. The colors are just magnificent.
Figure 1. A full view of some of the colors that can be seen in the Painted Hills Unit. 

So- why the colors? Great question! Now, you might think clay is not that interesting- it’s just mud, right?! Well, I am hoping that by the time you’re doing reading this, you’ll have a brand-new perspective on clay! Clay is an incredible resource for geologists when we are trying to learn about past environments in Earth history: particular types of clay can inform us of the types of igneous and metamorphic rocks that were likely present millions of years ago, they can tell us about the levels of oxygen present in the environment when the clay was forming, and even about the climatic conditions of the area. How? There are a number of ways, but a really cool way is by identifying the color of the clay- clay turns specific colors during different conditions. For example, black-colored clay is often associated with extinctions because black clay indicates a lack of free oxygen in the ocean, which leads to death for living creatures. 

At the Painted Hills, we see reds, greens, purples, yellows, and a whole rainbow of shades in between. As the clays were being formed, it recorded the changing climate. Yellow and reddish-colored sediment (Figure 2) that we see today indicates a time on Earth where the area was cooler and drier- this is because of certain elements in the minerals leeching out. Brighter reds are an indicator of more humid, rainy, tropical times in the area (Figure 3). Iron- rich volcanic ash falling from nearby eruptions settled down in layers, and over time, the iron reacted to the presence of warm, wet conditions, causing the red color (think of what happens when you leave your bike in the rain and it rusts- the iron in the bike is reacting to the oxygen present through the moisture-this reaction makes what we call rust). The warmer the climate, often, the faster this reaction can happen- so in more humid climates, we’ll see more of that really red color. The iron is present in the ash in cooler times, too, but because those times were drier, less iron oxidation was occurring. 

two large hills of clays- the one on the right is distinctly yellow-green in hue and the one on the left is predominantly yellow-ish, with red toward the top.
Figure 2. The hill on the right, especially, shows the yellow-hue of drier and cooler climates 
A wooden walkway over red hills. These red hills are a rich, vibrant red. Some close by show mud cracks indicating that the areas is currently dry.
Figure 3. This is a great example of how iron-rich ash, when deposited, creates stunning, vibrant reds through the process of the iron oxidizing (rusting). Note the sedimentary structures, mud cracks, at the bottom right of the image- clay does this when it becomes drier.

Other colors, like a purple-ish hue, are indicative of a type of volcanic rock called rhyolite, which is a pink rock. This type of rock is formed from volcanoes that have more granitic magma (granite can be thought of as our continental crust), as opposed to an oceanic one, which would be basaltic magma, or oceanic crust). In this case, in the volcanic eruptions forming these hills, the continental plate was moving toward an oceanic plate, the latter of which was being subducted (the oceanic plate is far denser, so it is the one that subducts). Volcanic eruptions are incredibly common results of when two plates are colliding (which is called a convergent plate boundary). The rhyolite here weathered over millions of years, which we see now in the form of this lovely colored clay in Figure 4. 

A purple-ish, gray-ish hued hill (quite small compared to the others, which were tens to hundreds of feet high)
Figure 4. Rhyolite can weather into the purple- ish hue shown above 

One of the other spectacular remnants of this region, as I mentioned above, is the fossil preservation. There are animal fossils present, but I wasn’t able to see any of them. However, I saw magnificent plant fossils- primarily, I saw petrified wood (or permineralized wood). This type of fossil is created by the wood itself being completely replaced by silica-rich materials- in this case, the wood was buried in silica-rich volcanic ash (continental volcanoes, like ones producing rhyolite) are richer in silica than oceanic ones). Over millions of years, the wood becomes permineralized. I found some gorgeous pieces of petrified wood there (Figure 5). 

My foot on a large piece of petrified wood (~2 feet long). the structure of the bark is visible, but altered heavily and the colors are muted shades of red and brown
Figure 5. A chunk of petrified wood- this used to be a tree trunk before it was covered in silica-rich ash. Over time, the wood is altered heavily and what is left is the structure of the wood (though how much of the structure remains can vary), but chemically, it is no longer the same. Colors of petrified wood are extremely variable, because silica-rich minerals have variable colors (e.g., rose quartz , tiger’s eye, and amethyst gemstones are the same mineral- quartz!) 

Stay tuned for more on the Geology of Oregon series! 

Meet the Museum: The University of Nebraska State Museum

Sarah here–

Not too long ago, I took a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska (USA) at the kind invitation of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department. While I was there, I was able to take some time to go on a tour of the University of Nebraska State Museum, a place I’ve worked with for a long time but never had a chance to see in person! Today, I’m going to introduce you to what isn’t on display- as with the majority of museums, only a tiny percentage of their collections are on display for the public- the vast majority of specimens are stored behind closed doors for preservation and research. One thing to note- if you are ever behind the scenes at a museum, you should check to make sure photographs are OK. Some of the specimens may not be published yet and scientists are not ready for images to be public. In this case, I made sure to ask for permission before I took the photos and asked for permission to share them with interested readers, which they were kind enough to allow!  

The paleontology holdings of Nebraska and surrounding states in the Midwest are, without question, spectacular. Within the halls of this museum lie the remains of camels, elephants, rhinos, and mammoths that lived long ago in North America (Fig. 1). This museum also has fossils from even longer ago from a time when the Midwest was completely underwater as a shallow sea. I first started my tour in the main display halls of the museum, where I got to see skeleton reconstructions of the diversity of fossil proboscideans (the group containing mammoths and elephants; proboscidean literally means ‘elephant’s trunk in Latin) that lived in and around Nebraska a few million years ago. 

a museum display containing a variety of skeletons- all probosdiceans. Some are quite large, some are small, like the size of deer.
Fig. 1. A diversity of animals related to the modern elephant used to be present in North America and in this case, specifically those in the Midwest. They varied greatly in size, shape of their tusks, and more.

Next, I visited the invertebrate collections, which hold special meaning to me. I worked with this very museum to perform my first scientific research project, which became my master’s thesis. I took the time to visit the specimens that I studied- crinoids belonging to the genus Erisocrinus and closely related taxa that came from Oklahoma, USA (Fig. 2). I saw some very interesting crinoid fossils that preserved features of parasitism as well (Fig. 3)

A drawer of crinoid fossils- most are the round cups with the arms disarticulated. Hundreds of specimens in boxes with labels, none of them readable from the image.
Fig. 2. A drawer filled with crinoid fossils from the Midwest of the United States. I studied some of these very fossils for my master’s thesis

A box of crinoid stems (maybe 2 inches length max, but most are .5 inches or so in length). Most of them have substantial holes drilled into them- some have nearly a dozen!
Fig. 3. Crinoid stems with parasitic traces left on their bodies- you can see how the stem gets distorted and bloated with the more parasitic pits that are left on the body! My finger is in the bottom of the image for scale.

I then went to the vertebrate collections area, which was just incredible. Many of their fossils come from the Ashfall Fossil Beds from the northeast area of Nebraska. Just about 12 million years ago, an active volcano spewed significant amounts of ash- this type of volcanic ash contained tiny natural glass shards and, as you can imagine, it’s quite harmful to breathe it in. Unfortunately for the animals that were alive at the time, they did breathe it in, and they died- the ash continued to fall, and this led to some exceptional preservation of their skeletons, many of which have been uncovered (Fig. 4) and more are likely to be found in the future. 

A map of the skeletons found in the site. They are color coded to indicate which animals were found, listed here in the figure caption. The vast majority were rhinos in this area, but there are a number of horses too, with the deer and camels less common. Many of the rhinos are grouped very close together.
Fig. 4. This is a map of the skeletons uncovered in the Ashfall Fossil Beds, of the skeletons of rhinos, horses, camels, deer, and footprints. Image credit: University of Nebraska State Museum

Ash has the potential to preserve fossils extremely well and this fossil area is no exception at all. The collections of the University of Nebraska State Museum are filled with rows upon rows of beautifully preserved skulls and other bones of vertebrates that fell victim to the ash (Fig. 5, 6, 7). 

Shelves of rhino jaws- dozens of them. Most are just the bottom half, but the teeth are in place and detailed. Many are juveniles but the majority are adults.
Fig. 5. A row of rhinoceros jaws of all sizes, all exquisitely preserved.

A close up of a juvenile jaw bone of a rhino- the scientists who found it nicknamed it "Charlie" as the label indicates. the back most teeth of this one look missing, but the ones closer to the center are well preserved. lower jaw bones only.
Fig. 6. This is a close-up image of one of the juvenile jaw bones of a rhino fossil- many of the specimens were given nicknames, and this one is named “Charlie”.

A bird fossil- gray in color.the delicate bones are highly detailed in place as they would have been in life for the most part. you can see tendons along the bones of the limbs of the bird. Incredibly well preserved.
Fig. 7. This is a bird fossil that was found in association with the ashfall. This detailed preservation is not common for birds, whose delicate, hollow bones are often not well-preserved- but in this specimen, if you look carefully, you can even see where the tendons were.

This museum was a really great place to visit! If you ever find yourself in Lincoln, Nebraska, I highly encourage you to check out the museum! You won’t be disappointed. If you’re interested in learning more about the Ashfall Fossil Beds, read the linked website! 

Geology of Oregon Series: Part I: Hot Springs

Sarah here –

In 2022, I took a road trip around Oregon on the west coast of USA to see all the incredible geology there is to see there. Oregon is an incredible natural geologic laboratory because there are so many different processes at play across different environments: you can see hydrology in action through massive waterfalls, naturally heated bodies of water from geothermal energy, the movement of sands in desert environments, and more- all in a single state! I’ll be writing a series of articles on the geology that I saw, so that I can share with you a small part of the incredible beauty that this Earth has to offer. 

My journey started near Eugene, Oregon, a few hours inland from the Pacific coast, with a friend of mine from college. Our first stop was to go swimming at the Terwilliger hot springs in the Willamette National Forest. A hot spring is a naturally occurring feature caused by geothermal (geo meaning Earth, thermal meaning heat) activity- Earth processes cause the water in a spring to be far warmer than we would expect a typical body of water on the surface of Earth! This geologic phenomenon does not occur everywhere on Earth by any means. 

So where does this geothermal activity come from and why is it restricted to certain locations? It comes from areas with volcanoes, both active and dormant (like Iceland, Hawaii, and Oregon!). The magma (lava that’s still underground) of the volcanic system is in contact with rocks closer to the surface of Earth- that heat is passed to water that is in contact with the rock (Fig. 1).

A diagram of how water is affected by volcanic activity. Starting from the bottom: a layer of magma in chamber is in contact with porous rock above it- heat is rising. There is water in that porous rock that is heated from the magma. The water can rise to the surface and form a few different things. It can stay in the ground as steam, it can come out as a hot spring, or it can erupt as a geyser. The top of the diagram shows a hot spring as a small pool with steam rising and a geyser with a large fountain of hot water bursting from the Earth. The water will eventually return to the ground and begin that cycle again.
Figure 1. A diagram of how magma below the surface affects the temperature of ground water- as the magma chamber heats the porous rock above it, water that is in that rock is also heated and rises to the surface- in this case, it is a hot spring, but the water can also come to the surface in different ways, like geysers!

The temperature of the water can vary from pleasantly warm to extremely hot- meaning, some areas are safe to swim, and others are not (so if you’re in an area where hot springs exist, always check local safety guidelines!). Typically, areas with active volcanism (meaning, they’ve erupted in recent history, as opposed to dormant, where they have not erupted for some time, but have the possibility to erupt in the future) will have higher temperatures associated with their hot springs. At Terwilliger (Fig. 2), the water ranges from 112˙F to about 85˙F, so it felt a lot like a hot tub! The hottest water is closest to where the water begins to flow- so, the water closest to the heat source- as it travels downstream, it cools. 

The view of the hot springs from the most uphill portion- it's in a forest, surrounded by trees and faint views of mountains in the background. there is a wooden platform off to the side. Directly in front is a pool of water about 8 feet across and a few feet deep (maybe 3)- the rocks make a circle around this pool, and water overflows over some of the rocks to continue to trickle downstream to pools outside the view of this image
Figure 2. The hot springs, from an upstream view. The pool directly in view is the warmest- as the water in it travels downstream, it cools a bit.

Due to the nature of hot springs, the water there often contains a high amount of dissolved minerals, and the minerals present in them can range drastically, as can the pH of the water. Often, you’ll find that the water can appear very different in color and clarity across different hot springs, and that’s why- the dissolved minerals. In Teriwilliger, the water has a lot of sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, aluminum, silica, and sulfates present in it. 

Despite the high temperatures of the water, life still thrives in this environment, too- while this hot spring is not among the warmest, it is still a difficult environment for many different organisms to survive in. However, certain species of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, have adapted to be able to thrive in these extreme freshwater environments (species that can live in extreme environments are called extremophiles), where most other species cannot. These cyanobacteria can be seen on the rocks closer to the edges of the pool (Fig. 3) and it can be very slippery if you step on it- so be careful! I wanted to highlight these cyanobacteria because cyanobacteria represent some of the earliest complex life on Earth, with their fossil record extending billions of years- we can thank them for providing a lot of the oxygen we breathe today! Biology and geology are intertwined with one another, so by studying both, we can get a fuller picture of the world around us.

A close up of the hot springs pool. The water is a distinct greenish shade and on the edges, you can see a blue-green shade to the rocks that is actually the algae. it stands out because the other rocks, not coated in algae, are mostly basalt, so they are dark gray in color (lighter gray if they have been weathered more)
Figure 3. A close-up image of one of the pools at the hot springs- note the distinct color of the water and the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) that coats the rocks. It’s tough to see the cyanobacteria in the deeper water, but toward the edges, you can see a colorful sheen- that’s the blue-green algae! A limited number of organisms on Earth thrive in extremely warm waters, but those that have adapted to these extreme environments can really thrive there!

Rinu Fathima, Ph.D. Student in Marine Science

Image 1: Working on foraminifera means spending long hours sitting on microscope, basically microscope is your best friend.

Hey, I am Rinu Fathima, a second year Ph.D. student from National Institute of Oceanography, India. I am originally from Kerala, a beautiful coastal state in India and currently lives at Goa which is also along the coast. Lucky me. I am a dreamer, thinker, crazy about movies and love spending time reading novels or watching sunsets. 

My research focuses on understanding past monsoon patterns using microfossils preserved in the ocean. Among the different microfossils that are present in the ocean I specifically make use of single celled, very beautiful, and extremely diverse organisms called foraminifera. Despite being so small the amount of information these organisms can share is huge. Both their shell morphology and composition tell a lot about the environmental conditions in which they lived. This aspect is used to understand past climate. I am particularly interested in a climatic event called mid-Pleistocene transition event that occurred between 1200 to 750 ka. Before this transition Earth’s glacial cycles followed obliquity dominated cyclicity and after this they changed to eccentricity dominated cycles. What caused this change in periodicity of glacial cycles is still a debated topic in the scientific community. I am very much excited about what results my research beholds about this mystery time interval.  

Examples of microfossils. They are light colored foraminifera with multiple chambers. The two on the left are one species and the right most two are a different species.
Image 2: Even though these pictures look similar they are different species of planktic foraminifera. Identifying and characterising their eccology forms an important part of my research.

I cannot really recall myself wanting to be a scientist from a very young age. I was good in school which made me believe I should pursue science. Later, I enrolled for Bachelors in Geology. Even then, I was not very much aware of what I was stepping into. But things took a quick turn later. The field visits during the course, practical classes, workshops everything excited me. The best thing was getting to travel all around the country as a part of the field work. The science suddenly felt personal. Later I joined for my masters in Pondicherry University. This was a beautiful ocean facing campus, where I learnt the different research potential of geology and an interest in oceanography. When COVID struck I was preparing for exams to get into Ph.D. during which I read a lot of books on Oceanography. By the time I qualified my exam I was a hundred percent sure on the topic in which I wanted to do my research. Yes, you guessed it right, Oceanography. 

Three images in a row showcasing vacationing and working in on the Sagar Kanya a research vessel. The first image (farthest to the left) is a sunset photo with Rinu in the foreground. The middle image is a research instrument against a dark background. The third is Rinu holding the side of the ship and a stack of books.
Image 3: Vacaying and working; This is me last year onboard Sagar Kanya for collecting samples across North-eastern Arabian Sea.

I feel connected to my research because I think I can make an impact. Coming from an agrarian country that depends heavily on monsoon, I believe understanding monsoon is very important. To have better predictions and climate models the past studies with well-defined forcing/response and boundary condition information is very crucial. 

I always felt that I should have joined the field and identified my passion a bit earlier, but I am really grateful that I found it even if a bit late. Right now, I feel like getting paid for doing something I love. My advice to anyone working in science will be to enjoy the process, that’s what I have been told by my supervisor and I have never been happier. 

Foreground has three individuals in matching shirts behind a table. On the table is a microscope and other equipment for others to use. The purpose is to share their love of microfossils with others.
Image 4: Assisting students in the important of microfossils on international fossil day.