Carrie Masiello- 2017 Geological Society of America Fellow

Society Fellowship is an honor bestowed on the best of our profession by election at the spring GSA Council meeting. GSA members are nominated by existing GSA Fellows in recognition of their distinguished contributions to the geosciences through such avenues as publications, applied research, teaching, administration of geological programs, contributing to the public awareness of geology, leadership of professional organizations, and taking on editorial, bibliographic, and library responsibilities.

Dr. Carrie Masiello has been a professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences at Rice University since 2004, and is jointly appointed in the departments of Chemistry and Biosciences.  Her research bridges organic geochemistry, soil science and geology.

Masiello’s research focuses on the development and application of tools to understand the cycling and fate of carbon in the Earth system.  Much of her work has involved the use of radiocarbon, nuclear magnetic resonance, and various other forms of spectroscopy and microscopy to understand the cycling and fate of charcoal in the Earth system.  The behavior of charcoal in the environment is relevant both in theoretical and applied contexts: charcoal’s environmental recalcitrance leads to an important role in the long-term storage of carbon in the Earth system, and in addition, it is being intentionally added to soils to store carbon and improve crop performance.  Masiello’s work has contributed to both our theoretical understanding of the mechanisms controlling charcoal’s environmental recalcitrance and to our understanding of the mechanisms driving its ability to alter agronomic processes.

Most recently her work has expanded to include the application of new synthetic biology tools to understanding microbial processes driving carbon, nitrogen, and water fluxes in the Earth system. Masiello was one of the first Earth scientists to recognize that the new capabilities of synthetic biology could be used in the construction of laboratory tools to address hard theoretical problems in carbon and nitrogen cycling. She leads a Rice team that was recently awarded 1 million dollars by the Keck Foundation to  build new microbial biosensors appropriate for soil and marine science applications.  These organisms report in on their environmental experiences (e.g. temperature, moisture, nutrient status) and/or their decision-making (e.g. horizontal gene transfer, greenhouse-gas emissions, pathogenicity) by releasing non-volatile gases.

Lastly, Masiello is deeply committed to creative teaching, science outreach, and advocacy for underrepresented groups in science. She has mentored the research experiences of 27 undergraduates, 14 of whom are underrepresented minorities, and 19 of whom are women.  Her research group regularly hosts public school teachers from local school districts, mentoring them through the development of Earth science curricular materials appropriate for the K-12 community. She also has collaborated with Rice’s Program in Writing and Communication and the Center for Teaching Excellence in expanding students’ skills in writing and public speaking, both within existing classes and through the creating of capstone communication courses.

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