Current Research

My current research projects focus primarily on modern carbonate mineral precipitation in microbially-active environments. Much of this work aims to deconvolute the interactions between microorganisms, fluid geochemistry, and minerals to better understand mineral formation or transformation. My research group relies heavily on laboratory experimentation, where we are able to isolate variables and deconstruct the complexity of natural systems to identify operative mechanisms. We also take inspiration from the characterization of modern microbial environments; normal marine, hypersaline salterns, and highly alkaline lakes all host microbialite sediments, active microbial communities, and varying geochemical conditions that allow us to constrain and elucidate microbial influences on carbonate sediments in modern environments and extend those parameters to ancient systems.

In addition to geoscience-based research, over the past five years I have participated in Geoscience Education Research as part of an effort to integrate active learning strategies into my introductory geology courses. This effort is collaborative amongst myself and several KU Geology faculty members as part of a larger effort to transform a majority of Geology major courses into learner-centered classrooms. These endeavors have resulted in better learning outcomes for students in these transformed courses, as well as data that now inform other STEM teachers’ best practices in the classroom. 

Dolomite, China

Funded by the PetroChina Hangzhou Research Institute of Geology, this research project aims to clarify the role of microorganisms on depositional attributes of the Neoproterozoic dolomite of the Dengying Formation, Sichuan Basin, China. Our research will assess low-temperature primary dolomite precipitation and dolomitization, using controlled laboratory experiments representing the range and complexity of seawater-to-evaporated seawater environments present in the Dengying system and typical of other restricted platform facies.

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Stromatolite, Puerto Rico

This research seeks to constrain geochemical and microbiological controls on mineralization and macro-morphology of microbial mats that form stromatolitic structures. We are studying recent (<500 years) stromatolitic structures—layered carbonate rocks that preserve microbial mats—found in an abandoned saltern in southwest Puerto Rico. Curiously, unlike the saltern of interest, adjacent salterns of similar size and shape in the area only exhibit flat-lying, laminated mats with no documented mineral formation. This study site therefore presents an ideal opportunity for comparative analysis.

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Alkaline Lakes

Many questions remain regarding the formation and diagenesis of lacustrine carbonate reservoirs, such as those in Angola and offshore Brazil (e.g. Wright, 2012). Using alkaline, saline lake environments as natural, modern analogues for these systems allows interrogation of processes impacting carbonate sedimentation and interactions with siliciclastic inputs.  We are characterizing the microbe:water:rock interactions in the highly alkaline, Alkaline Lakes of the Sand Hills of Nebraska, to understand how variations in climate, groundwater input, and microbial activity impact carbonate and silicate mineral equilibria in this system.

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Active Learning Approaches in Geology Courses

Previous research on the use of active-learning activities in STEM courses show increased learning, performance, and retention as well as improved outcomes for minority (women; underrepresented minorities) students. Results from the introduction of active-learning modules into KU Geology courses demonstrate a) problem-based approaches are effective in teaching interdisciplinary subjects, b) the efficacy of using Google Earth to improve student learning, and c) improved performance in active-learning classrooms for women, underrepresented minorities, and first-year freshmen in two different introductory courses.

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7 Million USD
in Grant Funding
Citation Counts

Previous Research

I have previously conducted research in a wide range of locations, from the high Arctic to equatorial islands. With funding from institutions such as The National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, American Chemical Society, and other industry sources, I have investigated topics in a variety of areas, including but not limited to: 

For more information about my previous research, please use the links above or see the complete list of my publications.

Fieldwork Photos