PULLMAN, Wash. – The sweep of Palouse hills viewed from his lab seems a fitting vista for Jeff Vervoort, an expert on the geochemical evolution of the Earth’s crust. In recognition of his original research on the composition of the crust and mantle, the Washington State University associate professor has been elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA).
 
He specializes in radiogenic isotope geochemistry—a field of study that measures the isotopic composition of various elements to determine the age, origin and chemical makeup of ancient geologic materials.
 
“Most of my work is in the earliest years of the Earth, looking at the source of the material in the continental crust and tracing how its chemistry and composition have changed as the Earth has evolved,” said Vervoort.
 
Explaining the physical world
Vervoort has traveled extensively and studied samples from all seven continents. Last December, he spent “six weeks in a tent at 6,000 feet and 85 degrees south” studying the Transantarctic Mountains as part of a grant funded by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation. The New York Times published several blog entries from Vervoort during the expedition.
 
Always interested in the “big picture” of natural science, Vervoort earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology before finding his passion and earning a Ph.D. in geology at Cornell University.
 
“Earth science combines physics, chemistry, math and biosciences to help us explain the natural world,” he said. “It helps us understand the landscape around us: the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, the deserts. It explains why the physical world is the way it is. That is what I love about it.”
 
Looking back 4 billion years
At WSU, Vervoort directs the Radiogenic Isotope and Geochronology Laboratory (RIGL). Inside this high-tech clean lab, he and his research group analyze planetary materials of all kinds—everything from mud to meteorites.
 
Additionally, scientific visitors from all over the world regularly come to Pullman to work in the RIGL with Vervoort. Recently, he collaborated with a colleague from Lyon, France, to trace hafnium isotopes in a 4 billion-year-old rock sample from the Northwest Territories in Canada. Results from the experiment will be ready for publication later this fall.
 
Vervoort also teaches Introductory Oceanography, a popular undergraduate course he created shortly after arriving at WSU in 2002.
 
“We track hurricanes and other contemporary news about the Earth to develop an understanding of the basic principles of oceanic phenomena,” he explained.
 
Peer recognition
The GSA, established in 1888, is a global professional organization dedicated to advancing the geosciences and to promoting stewardship of the Earth. Vervoort will be honored on Oct. 9 at the annual meeting in Minneapolis.
 
Vervoort’s fellowship is the third such honor for WSU; professors Kent Keller and Gary Webster are also GSA fellows.
 
About the College of Sciences
From the molecular interactions of solids and liquids to the extreme physics of space, and from global biodiversity to energy policy simulations, the College of Sciences is at the core of WSU’s research initiatives. Over the past five years, faculty and research staff have been awarded more than $120 million in research grants.
 
Students at all levels have exceptional access to research faculty and opportunities to work on real-world issues in modern laboratories. Undergraduates can choose from 11 distinct majors and more than 30 specializations to match their strengths and interests.
 
Associated link: Journey to the bottom of the earth
 
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Source:
Jeff Vervoort, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, 509-335-5597, vervoort@wsu.edu
 
Media contact:
Joanna Steward, College of Sciences, 509-335-3933, jsteward@wsu.edu