McMicken College of Arts & SciencesUniversity of Cincinnati

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Award-Winning Geology PhD Students Rock On


It has been a productive, honors- and grant-filled year for PhD students in the Department of Geology.

Date: 10/10/2008 12:00:00 AM
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Britt Kennerly

UC ingot   A productive year continues for an award-winning group of students pursuing doctoral degrees in geology through research that reaches around the country and globe.

Zhenzhu Wan landed her fourth research grant of the spring earlier this year, one of only two awarded in Ohio by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Her research centers on stomata, tiny structures found on the surface, or epidermis, of plants.

Their main function, Wan says, "is to allow oxygen to flow out of and carbon dioxide to flow into the leaves."

Tom Algeo, professor of geology, and Zhenzhu Wan, PhD student

Along with her advisor, Tom Algeo – who says Wan is teaching him a lot about paleobotany – her work includes looking at the density of stomata on fossil leaves, through which information about changes in atmospheric composition can be inferred.

"I like it here – I am getting good help from Dr. Algeo," says Wan, who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Peking University and is 13 months into her PhD work.

The Department of Geology has an "excellent" group of graduate students, says Professor Lewis Owen, acting department head.

"The quality of our students keep increasing every year – we're really very fortunate," Owen says.

Third-year student Jay Zambito, whose advisor is Carl Brett, says he applied to UC "because of the nationally recognized research group in paleontology."

"I couldn't be happier with my experiences here and have been able to learn much from the faculty and other students," he says.

Zambito and Brett are investigating faunal transitions during an extinction event in the Middle Devonian – about 385 million years ago, he says.

"This extinction is associated with a period of global warming and decreased oxygen in epicontinental seas," Zambito says.

"Over the past year we have obtained funding from various sources, including The Paleontological Society, The American Museum of Natural History, The Evolving Earth Foundation and the UC University Research Council."

A third PhD student having a banner year is Sarah Kolbe, a second-year PhD student whose advisor is Arnie Miller. Kolbe's studies center on the statistical analysis of morphological change in bivalve mollusks, throughout the Cenozoic Era and in the present day.

Her recent honors include a grant-in-aid from the Society of Sigma Xi – a particularly competitive, "science-wide competition. In addition, she, Zambito and Wan all received Paleontological Society Research grants this year, with Kolbe earning special recognition because her proposal was ranked third-highest out of the 114 proposals submitted.

Kolbe and Zambito "both have been very, very successful in acquiring outside funding for their research from a spectrum of agencies," says Arnie Miller.

"Travel to museums to work with fossil research collections and visits to field localities in various regions of the United States are integral to both of their projects, and their grants are providing the funding needed to underwrite this aspect of their research, with some latitude to explore more widely than would otherwise be possible."

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