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Earth Sciences

Earth Sciences research in the department focuses on the fundamental controls on environmental and geologic process, with strengths such as:

  • Geochemistry
  • Mineralogy & Petrology
  • Hydrogeology
  • Geomicrobiology
  • Planetary Science & Exploration
  • Environmental Science

In addition, the Earth Sciences have strong links with the Environmental Engineering focus area.

Research and teaching address a range of highly-relevant social issues, including:

  • the fate and transport of surface, soil, and groundwater contaminants
  • the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear forensics
  • planetary-scale geochemical processes
  • supervolcanoes
  • biogeochemical cycling of the elements
  • natural and engineered nanoparticles
  • global climate change

Integrating advanced laboratory, field, and modeling approaches, Earth Sciences research in the department is highly quantitative and multidisciplinary. There are opportunities for Earth Science majors to undertake research projects with a faculty member. Students are encouraged to contact the individual faculty members below to see what research opportunities exist in particular topics. Majoring in the Earth Sciences opens up a wide range of career choices, as demonstrated by the varied research and teaching subjects currently being pursued by the faculty. Information about careers in the Earth Sciences can be found at: http://www.americangeosciences.org/workforce

Core Faculty

Melissa Berke
Assistant Professor
Ph.D. University of Minnesota, 2011

Molecular paleoclimatology and paleoenvironmental change; Organic and stable isotope biogeochemistry; Paleolimnology and paleoceanography; Tropical climatology and monsoonal systems; Compound specific isotope analysis for paleoecological reconstructions.


Peter Burns
Henry J. Massman Professor
Ph.D. University of Manitoba, Canada, 1994

Environmental mineralogy; mineralogy and crystallography; mineral crystal structures and crystal chemistry; mineral structural energetics; mineral paragenesis; nuclear waste disposal


Jeremy Fein
Professor and Director of the Center for Environmental Science and Technology
Ph.D. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 1989

Geomicrobiology; Aqueous environmental geochemistry; Experimental studies of the effects of bacteria on water-rock interactions; Application of chemical thermodynamics to model bacteria-water-rock systems; Metal-organic complexation studies of environmental and geological interest.
Bacteria co-exist with minerals in near-surface geologic systems. We are investigating not only how bacteria influence mineralization, but also their influence on mineral dissolution and contaminant adsorption and transport in the subsurface. We use a range of approaches, from wet chemistry experiments to x-ray absorption spectroscopy to molecular dynamics modeling.

Amy Hixon
Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Clemson University, 2013

Environmental radiochemistry; actinide chemistry; geochemistry; geochemical reaction modeling; contaminant fate and transport; nuclear fuel cycle; nuclear forensics.


Clive Neal
Ph.D. University of Leeds, United Kingdom, 1986

Environmental effects of heavy metal pollution; petrogenesis of Large Igneous Provinces; ICP-MS analytical techniques; evolution of the Moon; evolution of Mars; geochemical and environmental consequences of plate interactions; origin of the Solar System.


Antonio Simonetti
Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
Ph.D. Carleton University, Canada, 1994

Development of analytical protocols for isotope measurements involving either solution mode- and/or laser ablation- multi-collection inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-MC-ICP-MS); Geochemical and radiogenic isotope investigations of alkaline rocks/carbonatites and mantle samples; long-range tracing of atmospheric pollution; strontium isotope studies of teeth from burial sites of Archaeological interest.


Stefanie Simonetti
Assistant Teaching Professor
Ph.D. McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, 2002

Combined geochemical, petrological and radiogenic isotope investigation of igneous and mantle-derived rocks and their constituent minerals using both ICP-MS and laser ablation-MC-ICP-MS instrumentation.


Actinide Research Laboratory

Actinide Research Laboratory

Peter C. Burns

Environmental Geochemistry and Geomicrobiology Lab

Environmental Geochemistry and Geomicrobiology Lab

Jeremy B. Fein

Environmental Actinide Chemistry Laboratory 

Amy Hixon

Midwest Isotope and Trace Element Research Analytical Center

Midwest Isotope and Trace Element Research Analytical Center

Antonio Simonetti, Clive R. Neal

Organic Biogeochemistry and Paleoclimatology Lab

Melissa Berke