Success From the Ground Up

Mariah Murphy

Mariah Murphy '15. Photo by Micah Corso-Phinney '16.

Mariah Murphy ’15 wins Geological Society of America grant

by Tony Moore 

When Mariah Murphy ’15 (chemistry, earth sciences) got an e-mail saying that her research proposal submitted to the Geological Society of America (GSA) had been accepted and funded, there was a little something extra from the GSA representative: “The reviewers were impressed with the quality of your proposal and rated it among the best we reviewed.”

For Murphy, it was a great one-two punch.

“I’m a chemistry major, and I've never submitted any applications for research grants before, so I was shocked to get this type of praise,” she says. “I had a lot of help from [Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Peter Sak], both in sculpting my research proposal and in reviewing my application. I also would give credit to both my high school and my college science courses, which have all pushed me to think like a scientist when I write.”

Thinking like a scientist is something that Murphy—the recipient of the chemistry department's Richard M. Sheeley Memorial Scholarship this year and last—does well, both on and off paper. She’ll use the $1,000 grant toward her summer research project, which she'll work on with Sak in Guadeloupe—a group of volcanic islands in the Lesser Antilles—studying the weathering of silicate rocks. (Sak's National Science Foundation award will cover the general fieldwork and provide Murphy with additional financial support for the summer.)

“This is important because silicate rocks regulate the global carbon cycle, release nutrients to terrestrial ecosystems and produce erodible materials,” Murphy says. “Approximately 30 to 35 percent of the global consumption of atmospheric CO2 is attributed to the weathering of volcanic rocks.”

The grant comes through the GSA’s Stephen Pollock Undergraduate Research Program, and it’s offered to sophomores and juniors, who are encouraged to present the findings from their research at a future GSA conference.

“I do plan on presenting my research findings,” says Murphy, who notes that Sak has made a couple of suggested sites: San Francisco and Prague. “This is so exciting, because I’ve only been out of the country for a total of two days, so the fact that I am not only going to Guadeloupe this summer but could also be going to Europe is amazing.”

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Published May 5, 2014