Rick Smith, oceanography
Science is more than an interest and a passion for oceanography doctoral student Rick Smith. It is a means of understanding and preserving the natural environment.
"Really what drives me as a scientist is to understand to what extent man is altering the Earth and how we can minimize those effects," said Smith. "I don't like science just for the sake of science. For me, it must have an end result. How can we use this information to lessen our impact on the environment?"
After graduating from the State University of New York Brockport in 2007 with a degree in chemistry and aquatic ecology, Smith elected to continue in academia somewhere a little closer to salt water. The Rochester, N.Y., native is now in his fourth year of graduate study at Texas A&M University under faculty adviser Tom Bianchi.
Ultimately, Smith said, he made the decision to come to Texas A&M because he wouldn't have to abandon his interest in chemistry in order to study oceanography.
"I wanted to combine the oceanography side of things and the chemistry side of things. Texas A&M was the first school I looked at, and I met Tom Bianchi, who worked in the exact field I wanted to study," Smith said.
Since deciding on oceanography, Smith has become a regular world-traveler. His research has involved trips to the Netherlands, the Bahamas, China and, most recently, New Zealand.
For three weeks over the summer, Smith studied the organic matter composition of water and sediments in the South Island's breathtaking Fiordland. Through this fieldwork, Smith sought to estimate the region's capacity to naturally sequester carbon, and how this relates to climate change feedback mechanisms.
Flanked by the towering, forested cliffs of the Southern Alps, Smith recorded measurements in the waters of deep lakes carved by retreating glaciers during the ice ages.
"The reason Fiordland is such a good place to study is because it is so pristine," Smith said of the region. "If you were trying to conduct my research around Chesapeake Bay, you would have lots of nutrients from agriculture coming in, lots of areas deforested and paved. But this place is ideal because it is natural."
The Southern Alps rising out of the Fjords in New Zealand's South Island.Preserving the "natural" is a recurring theme with Smith, and one that he hopes to continue throughout his career. After receiving his doctorate, Smith aspires to either continue research in his current field, or go on to research organic toxicology in coastal fisheries. Although this is not a new field of study, Smith said there is always room for improvement.
"The more you go into it, the more your realize that things you thought you knew, you really didn't," said Smith. "Just because there is a lot of research in the field doesn't mean it is a dead end. People are always improving scientific understanding by amending the knowledge of earlier generations."
Story by Robert Carpenter