Saturday, March 2, 2013

February Field Trip #1: Interface Science

Dear fellow mineral physicists, mineralogists, planetary scientists, space physicists, atmospheric physicists, geophysicists, geochemists, cosmochemists, environmental geochemists, structural geologists, seismologists, tectonophysicists, etc,

To the outside world we are all geologists.

Geologists do field work. It was a geology field trip that turned me from materials science engineering to Earth science. But even though field observations is what first brought me to this field, I am a laboratory scientist by long training.

I have some training in electrochemistry as part of my metallurgy/materials science training and I have a masters’ degree in corrosion engineering. One of the first experiments I did as an assistant professor of mineral physics was to electroplate metals from a salt bath and measure the stable isotope fractionation.  I can still hear the voice of my at-the-time department chair pleading with me to stick with the research program he had hired me to do. “Please make it easy for us” he said.

The two field trips I went on this month were small conferences sponsored in different fields: electrochemistry and materials science. At both workshops I played “Pet Geologist”, showing some of the research my group does in the context of big questions. e.g. experiments at high pressures and temperatures combines with geophysical and geochemical observations to tell us about Earth structure and evolution.

The first conference was an electrochemistry workshop. I learned about batteries, photovoltaics, catalysis. I presented some of the results of a series of fun experiments examining isotope effects in electrochemical processes. I also showed pictures of the Earth—inside and out. It was great fun, and I loved having the opportunity to talk with students, faculty, and postdocs in a different field.

I think it is a good thing to spend a lot of time learning a field in depth. I also think it is good to shift and move and spend time in other fields—especially neighboring fields. I personally find the interfaces fascinating—both the metaphorical interfaces (between different fields) and the literal interfaces (between different phases).  

Sculpture at University of British Columbia. Photo credit: A. Kavner

No comments:

Post a Comment