Research

Four named 2015 SMU Ford Research Fellows

SMU Ford Research Fellows 2015

Ping (Peggy) Gui, Robert Howell, Lisa Siraganian and Nathan Cortez were named SMU’s 2015 Ford Research Fellows during the University’s Board of Trustees meeting in May.

Four distinguished SMU professors were named 2015 Ford Research Fellows during the Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, May 7.

This year’s recipients are Nathan Cortez, Dedman School of Law; Ping (Peggy) Gui, Electrical Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering; Robert Howell, Philosophy, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences; and Lisa Siraganian, English, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Established in 2002 through a $1 million pledge from trustee Gerald J. Ford, the fellowships help SMU retain and reward outstanding scholars. Each recipient receives a cash prize for research support during the year.

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May 20, 2015|Faculty in the News, For the Record, News, Research|

SMU geothermal scientist Maria Richards named 2016 president-elect of the Geothermal Resources Council

Maria Richards, SMU Geothermal LaboratoryMaria Richards, coordinator of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, has been named president-elect of the Geothermal Resources Council. She will become the 26th president of the global energy organization beginning in 2017, and the first woman president in its history.

Richards has been at the forefront of SMU’s geothermal energy research for more than a decade, and the University’s mapping of North American geothermal resources is considered the baseline for U.S. geothermal energy exploration. SMU’s Conference on Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas fields, which Richards directs, is pioneering the transition of oil and gas fields to electricity-producing systems by harnessing waste heat and fluids.

“The Geothermal Resources Council is a tremendous forum for expanding ideas about geothermal exploration and technology related to this commonly overlooked source of energy provided by the Earth,” Richards said. “It’s a great opportunity for educating people about an energy source that covers the whole gamut – from producing electricity for industries, to reducing our electricity consumption with direct-use applications, to even cooling our homes.”

“This also is a unique occasion for me to encourage and mentor young women to participate in the sciences throughout their careers and get involved in leadership roles,” she added.

SMU’s seventh international geothermal energy conference and workshop is scheduled for May 18-20, 2015, on the Dallas campus. Designed to reach a broad audience, from the service industry to reservoir engineers, “Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields,” is an opportunity for oil and gas industry professionals to connect with the geothermal and waste-heat industries to build momentum. The conference is a platform for networking with attendees from all aspects of project development. Presentations will highlight reservoir topics from flare gas usage to induced seismicity and will address new exploration opportunities, including offshore sites in the eastern United States.

Find information and registration for SMU’s 2015 Geothermal Energy Conference: smu.edu/geothermal

Richards’ projects at SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory vary from computer-generated temperature-depth maps for Google.org to on-site geothermal exploration of the volcanic islands in the Northern Mariana Islands. Along with Cathy Chickering Pace, Richards coordinates the SMU Node of the National Geothermal Data System funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Richards has previously served on the Geothermal Resources Council Board of Directors and was chair of the Outreach Committee in 2011-12. She is also a Named Director of the 2015 Board for the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association (TREIA).

Richards holds an M.S. degree in physical geography from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a B.S. in environmental geography from Michigan State University.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

April 2, 2015|For the Record, News, Research|

Research: Whale fossil provides key to unlock date of East Africa’s mysterious uplift

A 17 million-year-old Turkana ziphiid beaked whale fossil from the Great Rift Valley, East AfricaPaleontologists have used a fossil from the most precisely dated beaked whale in the world to pinpoint for the first time a date when East Africa’s mysterious elevation began.

The 17 million-year-old fossil is from the Ziphiidae family. It was discovered 740 kilometers inland at a elevation of 620 meters in modern Kenya’s harsh desert region and is the only stranded whale ever found so far inland on the African continent, said SMU vertebrate paleontologist Louis Jacobs.

Uplift associated with the Great Rift Valley of East Africa and the environmental changes it produced have puzzled scientists for decades because the timing and starting elevation have been poorly constrained. Determining ancient land elevation is very difficult, but the whale provides one near sea level.

“It’s rare to get a paleo-elevation,” Jacobs said, noting only one other in East Africa, determined from a lava flow.

At the time the whale was alive, it would have been swimming far inland up a river with a low gradient ranging from 24 to 37 meters over more than 600 to 900 kilometers, said Jacobs. He is co-author of a study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that provides the first constraint on the start of uplift of East African terrain from near sea level.

“The whale was stranded up river at a time when east Africa was at sea level and was covered with forest and jungle,” Jacobs said. “As that part of the continent rose up, that caused the climate to become drier and drier. So over millions of years, forest gave way to grasslands. Primates evolved to adapt to grasslands and dry country. And that’s when – in human evolution – the primates started to walk upright.”

Identified as a Turkana ziphiid, the whale would have lived in the open ocean, like its modern beaked cousins. Ziphiids, still one of the ocean’s top predators, are the deepest diving air-breathing mammals alive, plunging to nearly 10,000 feet to feed, primarily on squid.

In contrast to most whale fossils, which have been discovered in marine rocks, Kenya’s beached whale was found in river deposits, known as fluvial sediments, said Jacobs, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

The whale, probably disoriented, swam into the river and could not change its course, continuing well inland.

“You don’t usually find whales so far inland,” Jacobs said. “Many of the known beaked whale fossils are dredged by fishermen from the bottom of the sea.”

The beaked whale fossil was discovered in 1964 by J.G. Mead in what is now the Turkana region of northwest Kenya. Mead, an undergraduate student at Yale University at the time, made a career at the Smithsonian Institution, from which he recently retired. Over the years, the Kenya whale fossil went missing in storage.

Jacobs, who was at one time head of the Division of Paleontology for the National Museums of Kenya, spent 30 years trying to locate the fossil. His effort paid off in 2011, when he rediscovered it at Harvard University and returned it to the National Museums of Kenya.

The fossil is only a small portion of the whale, which Mead originally estimated was 7 meters long during its life. Mead unearthed the beak portion of the skull, 2.6 feet long and 1.8 feet wide, specifically the maxillae and premaxillae, the bones that form the upper jaw and palate.

The researchers reported their findings in “A 17-My-old whale constrains onset of uplift and climate change in east Africa” online at the PNAS web site. Besides Jacobs, other authors from SMU are Andrew Lin, Michael Polcyn, Dale Winkler and Matthew Clemens.

From other institutions, authors are Henry Wichura and Manfred R. Strecker, University of Potsdam, and Fredrick K. Manthi, National Museums of Kenya.

Funding for the research came from SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man and the SMU Engaged Learning program.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

March 19, 2015|For the Record, News, Research|

Star students show their work on SMU Research Day, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

Stock photo of lab workersSMU graduate students, and select undergraduates, from a wide variety of disciplines will share their work as part of the University’s 2015 Research Day. All SMU faculty, staff members and students are invited to visit the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballrooms from 2-5 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 25, to meet the student researchers and discuss their results.

Awards will be presented at the event’s end, and refreshments will be served throughout.

> See a list of participating student researchers and their projects from SMU News
Visit SMU Graduate Studies online

February 25, 2015|Calendar Highlights, News, Research, Year of the Student|

Calendar Highlights: Feb. 18, 2015

Emanuel Cleaver II

Emanuel Cleaver II visits Perkins Chapel as a guest preacher on Thursday,, Feb. 19th.

The Cultural Realities of Cancer: Visiting SMU under the Department of Anthropology, Dr. Deborah O. Erwin, Director of the Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, will explore “The Cultural Realities of Cancer” and how individuals are impacted by this diagnosis. This free event will take place in the McCord Auditorium on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 5 p.m. For more information, email Pamela Hogan.

Emanuel Cleaver II: Sponsored by the Perkins School of Theology Black Seminarians Association, U.S. Representative and United Methodist clergyman Emanuel Cleaver II will visit the Perkins Chapel as a guest preacher on Thursday, Feb. 19, at 11:30 a.m., during the regular worship service. Celebrating Black History Month, the theme for this worship service is “We’ve Come This Far by Faith and We Won’t Stop Now!” For more information about the chapel service and Rev. Cleaver’s visit, email Ailey Pope, the chair of the Black Seminarians Association at Perkins.  

Godbey Lecture Series: In honor of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Godbey Lecture Series presents “Perspectives on Magna Carta” featuring three SMU professors as they illuminate the history and contribution of the document. The SMU professors include; Jeremy Q. Adams, Professor of History, Joshua Tate, Associate Professor of Law, and Ada-Maria Kuskowski, Assistant Professor of History. The event will take place on Thursday, Feb. 19, 5:30 p.m. in the Gene and Jerry Jones Great Hall, Meadows Museum. While the lecture is free and open to the public, guests are asked to please register online. For more information, visit the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute webpage or email Elizabeth Fieldling. 

Meadows Virtuosi Players: SMU Meadows School of the Arts presents “Meadows Virtuosi Players” on Saturday, Feb. 21, at 6:30 p.m., in the Caruth Auditorium. Formed in 2012, the Meadows Virtuosi Players concert series features select Meadows student musicians performing side-by-side with their faculty colleagues. This Saturday, directors Andrés Diaz and Matt Albert will be joined by Meadows voice faculty member Camille King. For more information, call 214.768.2787.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Tate Lecture Series: SMU’s Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series presents Doris Kearns Goodwin, on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, best-selling author and presidential historian. While The Anita and Truman Arnold Lecture is already sold out, SMU students, faculty and staff are welcome to participate in the Turner Construction/Wells Fargo Student Forum at 4:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom. 

Research Day 2015: On Wednesday, Feb. 25, SMU graduate and undergraduate students are invited and encouraged to present results of ongoing and completed SMU-based research. Guests are welcomed to meet over 160 students engaged in research, and discover opportunities for future collaboration and entrepreneurship. The event will take place in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center, Promenade Ballroom, from 2-5 p.m. For additional information, view the 2015 Research Day Catalog or email Sarah Sage. 

February 18, 2015|Calendar Highlights, News, Research, Save the Date|
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