Early Career Spotlight

Sam Anderson

Tell us about yourself:

I am a current PhD student at Tulane University in New Orleans.  My formal education began at City College of San Francisco where I received an AS in Mathematics.  I then transferred to the University of California at Santa Cruz where I graduated Cum Laude with a BS in Environmental Geology and assisted Allison Pfeiffer with her geomorphology related research and Alex Steely, Jeremy Hourigan, and Terrence Blackburn on geochronology related projects.  Since then I have taught mural art in Bucaramanga, Colombia and 8th grade science in Istanbul, Turkey. While in Turkey, I also had the opportunity to assist at Mutfak, a center for Kurdish and Syrian refugees.  I love exploring and am captivated by the diversity of the human experience.

What is your research about?

I am working with Nicole Gasparini, Joel Johnson, Brent Goehring, and Nathan Lyons on a project which investigates how rock properties affect stream channel form in the Guadalupe Mountains of Southern New Mexico.  I use a variety of metrics to quantify rock properties including Schmidt hammer measurements to quantify relative compressive rock strength.  I am building high resolution orthomosaics using GoPro footage of bedrock reaches in stream channels and tracing fractures to determine the fracture intensity of channel sections.  I use DEM analysis of the landscape to quantify stream channel morphology and plan my sampling strategies.  I am also working on a second project which will use paired cosmogenic beryllium and carbon measurements to quantify erosion rates on different timescales in the Guadalupe Mountains.

What excites you about your research?

The opportunity to work with my committee and research group on a variety of interesting questions about an amazing landscape.  Fieldwork in the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains is incredible, and to quantify the mechanisms by which it evolved is a challenging and rewarding experience.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

By understanding the processes which formed the landscape, we can identify potential future risks, like flash floods or landslides, to human life and/or property.  Also, I try to include undergraduates in my research with the goal of assisting emerging scientists.  Not only is exposure to research beneficial to the students who have assisted with my research, it also has helped me- I am constantly impressed by the abilities of my research assistants Olivia Boraiko, Claire Hudson, and Joseph Firkaly-Paciera.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

My interest in the Geosciences stems from hiking and camping in my hometown of Yosemite Valley.  My love of the Sierra Nevada mountains became a will to conserve and understand the natural world. 

What are you looking to do after you complete your PhD?

After I finish my PhD, I would like to work in some capacity which will seek to identify positive solutions to environmental problems which negatively affect people. My ideal career will be one which prioritizes a healthy relationship between humans and the natural world.

Given unlimited funding and access to resources, what is your dream project that you would pursue?

I am enthusiastic about projects that require few resources. I think that making science more accessible and removing barriers that could inhibit those with less resources is of the utmost importance.  Science should be a part of common conversation and should not be limited to the few.  More available science could lead to a society that makes healthier decisions.

What else do you do?  Any hobbies or interests outside of work?

Aside from my professional interests, I enjoy playing chess, working on mural and art projects, and watching my friend’s punk music shows. I also enjoy studying labor history and radical political philosophy, playing baseball with the 5th Ward Weebies, learning new languages, and I am an avid freight train enthusiast.

Surveying an ephemeral stream channel in the Guadalupe Mountains using a Schmidt Hammer- a tool to measure the compressive strength of bedrock.