Rice wins 1st Place Poster at AAPG Student Expo 2016


Pankaj Khanna, PhD Candidate, won the 1st Place Poster award at the AAPG Student Expo, Houston 2016.

Poster title – ‘ Uppermost Pleistocene coralgal Reefs and Upper Cambrian microbial bioherms: Morphologies and sea-level induced evolution’



Earth Science Students Participate in Rice University’s 90 Second Thesis Competition

The Earth Science Ph.D. program fielded its first team of student participants in the university-wide 90 second thesis competition this spring.  Students Tamunoisoala LongJohn, Harsha Vora, Tuo Zhang, Zuolin Liu, and Lacey Pyle had 90 seconds to describe their Ph.D. thesis topics to a diverse panel of judges.  Follow this link here to see their performances.

Charcoal Disrupts Soil Microbial Communication Through a Combination of Signal Sorption and Hydrolysis

Charcoal Disrupts Soil Microbial Communication Through a Combination of Signal Sorption and Hydrolysis



The presence of charcoal in soil triggers a range of biological effects that are not yet predictable, in part because it interferes with the functioning of chemical signals that microbes release into their environment to communicate. We do not fully understand the mechanisms by which charcoal alters the biologically available concentrations of these intercellular signals. Recently, charcoal has been shown to sorb the signaling molecules that microbes release, rendering them ineffective for intercellular communication. Here, we investigate a second, potentially more important mechanism of interference: signaling-molecule hydrolysis driven by charcoal-induced soil pH changes. We examined the effects of 10 charcoals on the bioavailable concentration of an acyl-homoserine lactone (AHL) used by many Gram-negative bacteria for cell–cell communication. We show that charcoals decrease the level of bioavailable AHL through sorption and pH-dependent hydrolysis of the lactone ring. We then built a quantitative model that predicts the half-lives of different microbial signaling compounds in the presence of charcoals varying in pH and surface area. Our model results suggest that the chemical effects of charcoal on pH-sensitive bacterial AHL signals will be fundamentally distinct from effects on pH-insensitive fungal signals, potentially leading to shifts in microbial community structures.

TECTONICS: The rigid-plate and shrinking-plate hypotheses: Implications for the azimuths of transform faults

Mishra, JK, & Gordon, RG, Tectonics 2016.

The rigid-plate hypothesis implies that oceanic lithosphere does not contract horizontally as it cools (hereinafter “rigid plate”). An alternative hypothesis, that vertically averaged tensional thermal stress in the competent lithosphere is fully relieved by horizontal thermal contraction (hereinafter “shrinking plate”), predicts subtly different azimuths for transform faults. The size of the predicted difference is as large as 2.44° with a mean and median of 0.46° and 0.31°, respectively, and changes sign between right-lateral (RL)-slipping and left-lateral (LL)-slipping faults. For the MORVEL transform-fault data set, all six plate pairs with both RL- and LL-slipping faults differ in the predicted sense, with the observed difference averaging 1.4° ± 0.9° (95% confidence limits), which is consistent with the predicted difference of 0.9°. The sum-squared normalized misfit, r, to global transform-fault azimuths is minimized for γ = 0.8 ± 0.4 (95% confidence limits), where γ is the fractional multiple of the predicted difference in azimuth between the shrinking-plate (γ = 1) and rigid-plate (γ = 0) hypotheses. Thus, observed transform azimuths differ significantly between RL-slipping and LL-slipping faults, which is inconsistent with the rigid-plate hypothesis but consistent with the shrinking-plate hypothesis, which indicates horizontal shrinking rates of 2% Ma1 for newly created lithosphere, 1% Ma1 for 0.1 Ma old lithosphere, 0.2% Ma1 for 1 Ma old lithosphere, and 0.02% Ma1 for 10 Ma old lithosphere, which are orders of magnitude higher than the mean intraplate seismic strain rate of ~106 Ma1 (5 × 1019 s1).

New Field Emission Electron Probe MicroAnalyzer at Keith-Wiess Geological Laboratories

EPMA_Ricehttp://Electron Probe MicroAnalyzer


PetroChallenge 2015

Some Rice Earth Science students participated in PetroChallenge, an event sponsored by Schlumberger’s NExT. It is a two day, simulation-based, exploration and production-themed game where you are partnered with people from other backgrounds. There were a lot of Rice Earth Science PSM students. On the regular-track thesis program side, it was just me and my office mate Gary.
   It was a lot of fun! I hope it becomes an annual event and more people participate in years to come. To give a short summary: Each team looks at some simplified geophysical data and comes up with an offshore block that they want to drill and produce. They bid on this block and start paying for more expensive geophysical data such as 3-D seismic reflection and exploration wells. Then comes the costly part of building infrastructure (production platforms, pipelines and whatnot). The team with the highest net worth wins!

   The pros with OilSim, the game software, involved:
– For a person with no geoscience background, it’s a great way to cover what geophysical signs to look for in gravity, magnetic and seismic reflection data. Our speaker did a very good job fastly going over what basins, traps, reservoirs are.
– Teams are rewarded points for spending money on schools, orphanages, sports teams, clean energy constructions (and even bribery!) in the country they are operating at which is biased in the overall scores. Teams who go the extra mile and spend money on safety and environment (using blow-out preventers, buying data on environmentally-sensitive areas to avoid them) are rewarded extra points.
– It becomes highly amusing as some of your actions can cause negative or positive points. You choose to do an action to earn these credibility points and end up with less than what you had initially had. It is randomized and the gambling makes it more fun.
– Teams are encouraged to partner up with one another to lessen their own costs and maximize their profits. It was surprising to see how most teams wanted to keep 70-80% of their shares. This is exactly the opposite of what super majors would do in such an expensive exploration setting.

   The cons with OilSim were:
– The geophysics part… was so very simple. It all came down to “look for small numbers”, “look for anticlines”, “your well test was a success/failure”. There were no logs, there were no cores… Overall, it gave me the impression that the game was designed for economy majors.
– Some of the actions seemed out of order. Teams should look at risk maps the same time they are looking at geophysical maps. OilSim takes you through to the building a production platform segment and then shows you that your facility might be in grave danger of a hurricane/earthquake. Or… Why would I build infrastructure in a country where I haven’t made money yet? That should come after the production has begun.
– The first day was very fast-paced and the second day just sort dragged on. Our presenters tried to keep everyone interested, but you could easily determine which teams will end up in the top three category on the decisions based on the first day.

   I still recommend anyone to attend if they see PetroChallenge being hosted in their school. It was a fun and interactive experience. NExT did a very good job of making diverse teams. My team had a chemical engineer major, an economist, a statistician and me, the geophysicist.
petro_chequeBackstage shenanigans during dinner. We found these large checks for the winner and the runner up. I think all of the people in this photo (save Jennifer and Jessie) knew they certainly weren’t winning, hence the goofy expressions.  From left to right: Tina, Jennifer, Gary, me, Jessie. Photo taken by Zac Zhai.

   Everything aside, our PSM students, Caitlin’s team, won first place, and, Jessie’s team, won second place (Go Rice Earth Science!) and received $1000 and $500 as an award! Schlumberger also gave each member a small gift bag and an internship or a full-time job interview promise. I believe all of those are good incentives to do the PetroChallenge if the experience isn’t enough.

12th Annual Women’s Energy Network YWE Event

As two other undergrads and four grad students, we helped out at the Women’s Energy Network’s (WEN) 12th annual Young Women Energized (YWE) event. A lot of acronyms…
   We set up a small booth and then later broke into small discussion panels to talk to some Houston high school girls about getting a degree in STEM, going to grad school, working in the oil and gas industry, etc. Most of the students I personally talked to were graduating in 2017 and had little or no clue what they wanted to do. Most think they will declare a single major without having the option to change it, get stuck in that particular field and have anxiety and guilt over not already knowing what this major is going to be. I could hear myself from 9-10 years ago, going through the same feelings. I hope we all helped some students. Two of the girls from the first panel approached me in the end to tell me that they somewhat felt better about not having a clear idea yet, and both are now considering geosciences as their major!
adeeneAdeene, our double-majoring versatile undergrad, did a great job.
girls_WENThis is what hundreds of high school girls all screaming at the same time, trying to answer trivia questions for prizes looks like.
wen_volunteersOur volunteers for the Earth Science table and the panel discussions. From left to right: Sriparna, Ruth, Adeene, Kelsey.


Us waiting for girls to ask about the well logs, seismic data or the very dirty orange coveralls in the background.