SJSU Geology Graduate Discovers “Smoking Gun” in Largest Mass Extinction in the History of Earth

Jose Jacome/EPA

About 252 million years ago the vast majority of life on Earth went extinct. This mass extinction event, known as the “Great Dying”, led to the demise of 90% of ocean life and 75% of life inhabiting land on the planet. Volcanic activity has long been suspected as the culprit, but new research published in Nature Communications by SJSU graduate Seth Burgess (M.S. 2006, now at the U.S. Geological Survey after a Ph.D. at M.I.T. and a Mendenhall postdoctoral fellowship at USGS), has provided the firm link showing how it happened. A massive volcano in what is now Siberia injected magma into a huge limestone and coal basin leading to an enormous release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The result was a major warming of the planet and acidification of the oceans, extinguishing much of the life on Earth. Articles in The NY Times, and The Guardian draw parallels between the new understanding of the Great Dying and the current climate change underway due to human-made carbon dioxide increases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren Visits Duncan Hall Research Laboratories

Natanya Villegas, a research student in Prof. Wilkinson’s laboratory at SJSU and a student in the MARC program funded by NIH, describes results from a neurophysiology experiment probing proprioception to Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

On Wednesday Aug. 9, US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren visited two research laboratories in the Biological Sciences Department to learn about the impact that federal research funding is having on our students’ education. Her visit, at the invitation of Prof. Katherine Wilkinson, brought her to Duncan Hall where she visited Prof. Wilkinson’s research laboratory studying the neurophysiology of proprioception and Prof. French’s research laboratory using a fruit fly model for studying the biochemistry and genetics of fetal alcohol syndrome. Rep. Lofgren also observed a teaching laboratory experiment developed by Profs. Ouverney, Wilkinson, and Grillo-Hill with technical help from Daniel Corral, Matt Voisinet and Marco Parent based on the new technique of optogenetics demonstrating that research activities can quickly reach the classroom to keep students abreast of cutting edge technology when the teaching faculty are also active researchers. Funding for the research on display was from several sources including the National Institutes of Health, especially the MARC and RISE programs.

The faculty and students thanked Rep. Lofgren for her leadership as a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee leading to continued funding for the NIH and NSF in the 2017 omnibus appropriations bill that passed Congress in May.

Studying Weather Created by Wild Fires

Fire front moving through instrumentation array.

Professor Craig Clements of our Meteorology and Climate Science department is the founder and director of the SJSU Fire Weather Research Laboratory, dedicated to understanding the science behind the local weather created by wild fires. Their work could lead to enhanced safety for both firefighters and residents near the fires.

Clements and his team have deployed their mobile laboratory to the Detwiler fire, currently raging just outside Yosemite National Park, to study the atmosphere above the fire. Read a news release from the National Science Foundation about this work. Clements team is also featured in a recent NBC News report about the fire.

Prof. Metzger Publishes New Book on Sustainability

Ellen Metzger, Professor of Geology and Director of the Science Education program has published a new book titled Living Well Now and in The Future with MIT Press. The book, coauthored with Randall Curren, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Rochester, is an examination of the meaning of sustainability and delves into various aspects of achieving it using three case studies.

Two SJSU Students and Three Faculty Awarded CSUPERB Grants

The CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) has announced the 2017 President’s Commission Scholars and Seed Grant awardees. Two of the eight President’s Commission Scholars are from SJSU: Kareem Aboulhosn, a freshman chemistry student working with Prof. Laura Miller Conrad on a project titled: Photoaffinity studies to identify the molecular target of pyocyanin inhibition” and Jackie Vo, a sophomore chemical engineering student working with Prof. Claire Komives on a project titled “Exploration of metalloproteinase inhibitor peptide against Anthrax Lethal Factor”.

Two SJSU faculty were awarded Faculty-Student Collaborative Research Development Grants: Prof. Brandon White for “Targeting triple negative breast cancer cells with walnut compounds” and Prof. Katherine Wilkinson for “Proprioceptor regulation by excercise released substances and gamma motor neurons”.

Prof. Elizabeth Skovran was awarded an Entrepreneurial Joint Venture Matching Grant for “Characterizing lanthanide transport in methylotrophic bacteria for recovery of rare earths from discarded electronics”. All three SJSU faculty awardees are from the Department of Biological Sciences.

Congratulations to the awardees!