George looks at some new Chemical Scanner data from a core to determine
how to slice up the sediment.
How did you become interested in science? What did you think you wanted to be
when you were a boy?
I always wanted to be a chemist. I had a chemistry set, which I experimented
with all the time. As usual, some of the experiments didnt work. My parents
were always understanding and supportive of my interests in science, even when
I made messes in the garage and basement with my chemistry.
Where did you go to college and graduate school? How did you start doing the
research you are now involved in?
I went to a small four-year college, LaSalle College, where I majored in chemistry.
In 1972, I got my Ph.D at the University of Pittsburgh. I did rocket-fuel research
for a while in graduate school, but finally settled on research involving the
new field of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. After graduate school,
I taught at a small college. While I was there, I got involved in collaborative
research with some marine geologists in New Jersey who were studying heavy metal
toxicity in the sediments of Newark Bay. I loved doing the fieldwork and applying
my knowledge of chemistry to the environment, so I gradually directed my research
more and more in that direction.
Much of my work now involves environmental sciences and aquatic toxicity studies.
I try to figure out how trace elements (elements that occur in nature but in
small amounts) affect geochemical and biological processes. Im a detective
of sorts. I try to figure out how organisms, big and small, use these trace elements
and how these elements affect their life processes.
The work we are doing here at Guaymas Basin and at other mid-ocean ridge hydrothermal
sites is helping us understand the interactions between biological systems and
very harsh, toxic environments.
How much time do you spend at sea each year? Do you like being in the field?
It varies each year. This year I will spend about twenty days on the water. Over
the years, I have been at sea in many different regions, including the Arabian
Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea. I love travelling to various historical
and religious sites when I go on field trips. That has been a real treat for
What do you like best about your work? What do you like least?
I love doing research in the field and laboratory. I also love undergraduate
teaching. I miss doing that now that I teach mostly graduate students. I also
enjoy seeing my students develop and mature as they move along in their careers
in science. It is gratifying to see young scientists excited about solving problems.
What are your hobbies?
I love music of all kinds. I love to participate in and watch team sports. One
of my favorite things to do as a teacher is to perform chemical magic shows for
children of all ages, from one to 92. Chemistry is fun. It involves almost everything
we do on a daily basis, from what we eat, to the things we use, to the technology
that makes our lives easier.
What research problem do you have your sights set on for the next decade?
I want to continue working in marine chemistry, on hydrothermal vents as well
as on other topics. Other interests include coastal processes and the interactions
between biology and chemistry. I am investigating how marine organisms take up
trace elements. These elements are essential for their survival, but can be toxic
if the organism gets too much of them. This work has important applications for
improving industrial processes, both in how they are designed and how they can
lessen their impact on the environment.