Finding Renewable Energy Solutions

Alexandra-Selene Jarvis ’10 and husband Brendon Robinson

Alexandra-Selene Jarvis ’10 and husband Brendon Robinson.

Former geology major Alexandra-Selene Jarvis ’10 has traveled the world researching options for renewable energy storage and recovery. Her work focuses on finding the most suitable solutions to address the energy needs of varied regions around the globe.
Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?
At my high school in Trinidad and Tobago, students must select their general career field at age 14. They can choose one of the following paths: math and science, language/humanities or business. Being funneled into a particular career path that early, in my opinion, leaves one with almost no opportunity to explore beyond these designations. The liberal-arts curriculum at Dickinson allowed me ways to explore various areas outside my chosen field of geology. It also encouraged me to always strive for a more interdisciplinary approach to my research interests and career. Currently, I am working on the storage of renewable energy, and although my expertise lies in the geological aspects, my Dickinson education enables me to comfortably approach my research questions from social, economic and historic perspectives. This gives me a much more holistic view and assists in determining whether my work can play a role in solving the world’s environmental challenges. I strongly prefer that my research endeavors contribute directly towards practical and vital projects. 
What was your favorite activity/organization at Dickinson? 
The Union Philosophical Society (UPS) was my favorite organization. Joining in my sophomore year, not only did it allow me to develop my debating skills by helping me to think faster and devise witty and sharp responses, but I also became less self-conscious while addressing an audience. English is my native language, but my time with UPS taught me to carefully intonate my words so that I could be clearly understood while effectively holding the listeners’ attention. I have been complimented on my voice numerous times, even having it described as “deliberate.” I remember how much fun it was participating in the “Revolutionary Spectacle,” a debating performance organized by the UPS annually. This sometimes involved dressing up in costumes depicting George Washington, Benjamin Rush and their contemporaries. 
How has Dickinson’s focus on global education impacted your life or career since graduation? 
I did not feel the need to participate in any of the study abroad programs offered at Dickinson because, as an international student, my time at Dickinson was already study abroad for me. Because I would be living away from my home country for the first time, Dickinson’s global focus was one of the principal reasons why I applied there. I was able to befriend several wonderful people and although we are now scattered all around the globe (U.S., Japan, Kenya, Poland, Italy, to name a few) we have remained in regular contact. I have even visited their home countries. 
Having successfully graduated and proven to myself that I could accomplish other challenging tasks, I kept going. First to work as a geologist in the U.A.E., then returning to the U.S. to gain my M.S. hydrogeology at Clemson University. Subsequently, I spent three years in Barbados working as the hydrogeologist at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology. This post involved a considerable amount of international travel. Eventually, I would move on to pursue my Ph.D. at the University of Potsdam and the Helmholtz Centre in Germany. I recently got married and have settled in Canada. Graduating from Dickinson College has undoubtedly prepared me to take advantage of the many opportunities that the world has to offer. 
What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson? 
There are so many. During my first semester at Dickinson, I had the privilege of taking Professor of Physics & Astronomy Robert Boyle’s First Year Seminar where we read Tom Stoppard’s play, “Arcadia.” Because one of the characters, Hannah Jarvis, and I shared a surname, I was chosen to read her lines. These memories still make me smile today. Spending Thanksgiving break with my friend and fellow Dickinsonian, Elizabeth Gorenbergh ’10 and her family during my senior year. Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago, so it was quite delightful to experience an authentic U.S. Thanksgiving complete with turkey with all the trimmings, including cranberry cookies baked by her mother. I remember how beautiful and peaceful their town of Wilton, Connecticut, was. During my final year at Dickinson, I shared an apartment with two friends. We had a rather large living room which became a study center for us and a few other friends. One night was particularly memorable. We were having a late-night study session, and we suddenly thought that we deserved a break and decided to walk to the Carlisle Diner for food at 2 a.m.! It was so much fun, I think we laughed all the way to the diner, during our meal and all the way back. 
How do you stay involved with Dickinson? 
I read the Dickinson Connection newsletter consistently, and I stay in contact with a few professors, members of staff and a rather close circle of friends. Eleven years have passed and, although we reside in various countries, we have tried to meet up as a group as often as we can. I have had the great fortune to work and study in several parts of the world and travelled to even more destinations for leisure. Consequently, I have been able to rendezvous with small groups of friends while exploring their cities such as New York City, Nairobi and Warsaw. Our next get-together will hopefully be in an English castle where my husband and I are planning to have our destination wedding celebration. The pandemic has caused us to postpone this celebration, but I hope I can round up as many Dickinsonians as possible to attend. In fact, a few months ago, one of my favorite people from Dickinson, Professor Robert Boyle, attended my wedding via Zoom. Sometimes we are all understandably busy, but I try to check in as often as I can to chat with those who have made lasting impressions on me, such as Diane Fleming, who headed international student admissions at the time of my application. I vividly remember meeting her for the first time and presenting her with some of our traditional Trinidad and Tobago Christmas Rum Cake. As I said above: So many great memories.
How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most? 
I am from Trinidad and Tobago, a country with considerable oil and gas reserves. By the time I was 18 years old, I wanted to be a geologist. Because of the limited range of opportunities available in my homeland, I wished to study abroad. When I found Dickinson College, while searching for universities in North America, I knew that it was where I wanted to be. Being awarded the Benjamin Rush Scholarship upon admission assisted me to pursue my degree. What excites me most is living in different regions, meeting fascinating people I can learn from and solving environmental concerns. 
After graduating, I spent the next year at the Petroleum institute of Abu Dhabi where my interest veered away from oil and gas towards carbon capture and storage (CCS), as well as multiphase flow in groundwater. I wrote a project proposal for a CCS study and decided to return to the U.S. to pursue my M.S. at Clemson University. Circumstances forced me to abandon my original project, and so I developed another independent idea: “Compressed Air Energy Storage of Renewable Energy in Geological Formations.” It has been five and a half years since graduating with my M.S., and renewable energy storage and recovery is still my principal research interest. 
What does your current work entail? 
My current work is focused on the geological storage and recovery of renewable energy (RE). Although we need a constant, steady supply of energy, RE sources are intermittent in their supply. Consider wind power: At times of high wind, excess energy is produced as opposed to when there is little or no wind. The best way to bridge this gap between generation and demand would be to store the excess RE and recover it when it is insufficient. My research addresses this problem by answering the following two questions: Can we use the large subterranean geological formations (such as aquifers or abandoned oil and gas reservoirs) to store excess RE and then later recover it when needed, and which storage mechanism (compressed air, hydrogen, or synthetic methane) delivers the most efficient energy recovery system? My work regards finding solutions to the problems outlined above by constructing numerical models of geological formations to simulate the storage and recovery of RE for each storage mechanism. Socioeconomic factors such as the state of existing electrical infrastructure or the cost of building new infrastructure, population size and density, and distance from population centers are then considered to find the most suitable storage system. 
What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated? 
I could not fairly answer this question by choosing just one thing since I have led a semi-nomadic life for the past 11 years.
  • Seeing the deserts and procuring fossil specimens in Ras al Khaimah, perusing one of the largest bookstores in the world in Dubai.
  • Visiting one of my best friends, Atandi Anyona ’10 and his family for a two-week vacation in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Teaching and inspiring geology students while pursuing my M.S.
  • Training students in hydrological techniques in Jamaica and lecturing ministerial staff in Guyana while working as a hydrogeologist.
  • Seeing the Kaieteur Falls, the world’s largest single-drop waterfall by volume.
  • Meeting my husband, Brendon, while on a business trip to Canada or taking a submarine ride at night with him when I was working in Barbados.
  • Being awarded a fellowship from The Netherlands to continue my hydrogeological studies and seeing Europe for the first time.
  • Taking my parents on a two-month vacation across Europe during which I realized my wish to travel across the Øresund Bridge, a partially submarine bridge that links Denmark and Sweden.
  • Winning a scholarship to the University of Potsdam to undertake my independent Ph.D. research work in Potsdam, a city I had first learned of when I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
  • Finally moving across the Atlantic to Canada and getting married in the middle of a pandemic.

Published August 3, 2021