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Alumni Newsletter: July '08 - July '09

Letter from the Chair

Dear Alumni/ae and Friends of Brown Geological Sciences:

This has been an interesting year for all of us! Brown hasn’t been immune to the downturn- we’ve had faculty and staff salary freezes. But I see a lot of good news also. On balance, the Administration is not panicking, and has set some important steps in motion for long-range planning. Every indication says that Brown will stay focused on the academic qualities that make this a great place to learn. We’re convinced that Geological Sciences exhibits some of the best traits of the University: a commitment to teaching and mentoring, encouragement for new ideas, and a shared sense between academic staff, graduate students, and undergraduates that participation in research and exploration is one of the best ways to grow intellectually, whether or not one stays in academia. As the University moves forward in its planning, we very much anticipate bringing ideas to the senior administration that will put us in a leadership role on campus.

As I write to you this summer, the department is anything but quiet. A visitor would see large numbers of undergraduate students (and some high school students) working in various laboratories. Most of them work in teams, and many will continue the projects they launch in their summer work as senior theses or as independent study projects. Although much of Lincoln Field and the Geochemistry facilities would look familiar to someone who visited us over the years, you would also see that these summer students have lots of new opportunities, many brought by our new faculty. Downstairs, Professor Steven Parman is setting up “Big George”, a multi-anvil press that will give us new opportunities to understand processes operating under extreme pressures and temperatures in the Earth’s mantle. Professor Alberto Saal will be installing a new MC-ICP mass spec that will open up investigations of isotopes from the entire periodic table. Although Alberto is a “hard-rocker”, he is already forming collaborations with environmental scientists, biologists, and archeologists, who want to share this new technology. On the first floor of the Geochemistry building, we are excited to launch Professor Meredith Hasting’s new mass spectrometer, which will let her make ground-breaking measurements of nitrogen species in the atmosphere and in polar ice cores. Meredith is an example of a new earth scientist, who is comfortable working at the intersections of atmospheric chemistry, biogeochemistry, and paleoclimatology. The Planetary folks in Lincoln Field have been busy, too. In addition to the phenomenal joint India-U.S. Lunar mission spearheaded by Professor Carlé Pieters that launched this past year, we’re looking forward to the completion of Professor Mike Wyatt’s new laboratory, which will be a unique facility in the country. Mike will be looking at the reflectance spectra of minerals under near-vacuum in order to simulate properly the remote sensing of the surface of the Moon and other planetary bodies that lack atmospheres.

These new activities only scratch the surface of what is happening in Geological Sciences. What I hope I’ve conveyed is that we are not retrenching, but rather thinking of how we can identify the most exciting scientific questions and apply the most innovative techniques to try to answer those questions. We continue to rely on the experience of our alumni to make sure that we take the most useful paths in this goal, and we appreciate your news and your support (in fact, I will be coming to you in a separate message to ask those of you who are able to help us grow our Fund for Field Experiences). Please do continue to keep Geological Sciences in your thoughts and keep in touch!

Timothy D. Herbert
Professor and Chair

P.S. FYI, this newsletter is also available in a downloadable PDF format.

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