Steve Chipera
Chesapeake Energy Company

Reservoir Technology Center
Oklahoma City, OK, US 

Bachelor of Science in Geology, University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN (1982)
Master of Science in Geology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND (1985)

Areas of Expertise: Geology, mineralogy, and chemistry of earth materials

How I Became Interested in Clays

"When I graduated from high school, I was going to go to college to become an engineer like my father. However, as I spent the summer backpacking around the western U.S. and Canada, I developed a keen interest in the different rocks types and formations that I encountered. It was then that I decided to become a geologist. In school, I was especially drawn to metamorphic rocks, (rocks that formed under high temperatures or pressures). It wasn't until I went to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory that I become interested in clay minerals. 

Although many people may dismiss clay minerals as "dirt," clay minerals fascinate me because of their seemingly magical properties. They can swell many times their normal size when exposed to water and can remove harmful chemicals from the environment. When heated hot enough, they form the ceramics that we use in our everyday lives. Their uses extend much farther and clay minerals are found in medicines, commercial products (it is what makes paper "glossy"), and in numerous industrial and environmental applications.

Most of my work involves using laboratory equipment to determine the mineralogy and properties of geologic materials. For example, we can determine the clay minerals present in a soil sample using X-rays, as every mineral has a unique pattern much like a finger print. I have worked in the past on a project in which Yucca Mountain in Nevada is being investigated as a possible site for the disposal of radioactive waste generated from nuclear power plants. The clay minerals that occur in the rocks would help to contain any leakage of radioactive material from the waste canisters. Currently, I am working on a project investigating the use of clay minerals to permanently capture carbon dioxide (an environmentally harmful greenhouse gas) emitted from the burning of fossil fuels at power plants.

I have been quite happy with my decision so many years ago to become a geologist. A friend once told me, "The earth is a book and the rocks are the pages. We just need to figure out how to read the darn thing."

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