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
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."