Sarah K. Carmichael
2022

Sarah K. Carmichael

FN’16 – Geochemist

If these rocks could talk

meet sarah

Dr. Sarah Carmichael FN’16 is a geochemist who studies how water reacts with rocks, in both ancient and modern environments. Her areas of expertise include the geochemistry of mass extinctions, the interactions between microbes and minerals in caves, and the interplay between microbes, water, and ore deposits. Her goal is to get the rocks to “tell their stories,” which starts with intense fieldwork wherever necessary- from the mountains in the Gobi Altai in Mongolia, to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in the Alvin submersible, the flanks of volcanoes in Tanzania, and the depths of caves in the southern Appalachians – and ends with a variety of high-tech laboratory techniques, allowing the story to be told from the kilometer scale to the molecular scale.

If these rocks could talk
Nominated by: Johnny Waters FN'04
Class of 2022 Location USA
Author: Felix Kunze

As an interdisciplinary geoscientist, I am known for my efforts to answer questions that stubbornly persist in geology by using methods and knowledge from other disciplines, and by sampling understudied places, no matter how remote they may be. My current research is focused on two fundamental scientific questions. How do humans impact the microbes and minerals found in caves? Did severe climate change hundreds of millions of years ago cause the mass extinctions that decimated coral reefs and forever changed the evolutionary trajectory of fish? To answer these questions, one must decipher the different stories recorded by minerals, rocks and fossils and then mesh them into a clear narrative.

“I try to lead, incorporating the contributions of the scientists where I do fieldwork, the student scientists that I have mentored, and the citizen scientists from the cave community.”

- Sarah K. Carmichael

My expertise involves translating the stories held by minerals, while incorporating the stories held by both microbes and fossils. This can have massive implications for both deep-time and modern climate research as well as best practices in cave management. This is a team effort and herein lies my greatest impact as a scientist, which is my ability to recognize who needs to be on the team to answer hard questions together. I try to lead, incorporating the contributions of the scientists where I do fieldwork, the student scientists that I have mentored, and the citizen scientists from the cave community. My record as a leader of two successful, very different, teams of scientists speaks to this passion for equitable and interdisciplinary science collaborations.

My hope for the future is to make this type of collaboration the norm, rather than the exception.

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