back to news Jan. 22, 2018

Earth Sciences doctoral student studies effects of climate change in Antarctica

PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences Melisa Diaz spent her winter break in Antarctica studying how ecosystems respond to changes in climate. Last year, after graduating with her MS, Diaz received a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which is awarded each year to 2,000 students around the U.S. pursuing research-based graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

How did you get interested in Earth Sciences?
I was interested in Earth Sciences starting in high school, but when I got to college I had an advisor who studied geochemistry and I was really into it. He took me on a field expedition on the Greenland ice sheet and I loved it so I applied to graduate school [at Ohio State], mainly because it has a strong polar research program.

Can you describe your research?
So Antarctica isn’t completely void of life. There are nematodes, microbes, algae and other organisms that thrive in lakes, streams and soil environments. These are niche communities that have survived in really cold temperatures and high salts, and some of them have existed and survived throughout different climate changes. 

This year I'm working as part of a National Science Foundation-funded program in the Shackleton Glacier, and we’ll be looking at how these biological communities have changed, thrived and responded to climate change — such as glacial advance and retreat — since the last glacial maximum (about 21,000 years ago). My specific role will be looking at accumulations of beryllium-10, a cosmogenic nuclide that deposits on the surface, and that will tell me something about how old a surface is relative to another.

Melisa Diaz

What’s the most enjoyable aspect of your research?
The best aspect of my research is the ability to travel. I really wasn’t well traveled before I started studying Earth Sciences … I think it’s great to go out to these really remote and cool places and not only experience life there, but learn more about how these environments are so different from ours and how they’re changing.

What else are you involved in at Ohio State?
I’m Vice President for the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter at OSU. It’s a national organization that’s geared toward promoting diversity in STEM fields. I help with outreach coordination and community involvement — specifically minority communities that are interested in science. 

Why is this role important to you?
There’s really not a lot of diversity in sciences … When you look at the general population it’s so diverse, but when you start looking into science, mathematics and engineering fields, suddenly that diversity goes away. It’s incredibly important to me to have our sciences and our education workforce represent our general population demographics.

What advice would you give to younger, aspiring scientists?
I’d say it’s okay to not be the best at something. I hear a lot of people say they’re not good at math, biology or chemistry, but all you really have to do is like it. Did I have 4.0 GPA in undergrad? Absolutely not. But I really liked what I was doing, and I still love what I’m doing. So as long as you find something interesting and you continue this quest for knowledge, who cares if you’re not good at it? As long as you’re trying and contributing to general knowledge.

Read more about Melisa's research.

Earth Sciences doctoral student & @NSFGRFP Fellow Melisa Diaz is leading in the research field and through diversity initiatives at home. #ASCDaily