Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
Interviews: Geochemist and petrologist Alberto Saal
Alberto and the other Los Tiberones (The Shark Watch, 12 to 4) wait
for a dredge to be recovered. Karen Harpp (left), Alberto Saal, Bob
Reynolds and Rob Otto.
When Alberto Saal was about 13 years old, he would sit in front of the television with his parents, older brother and sister watching Carl Sagan - the world famous astronomer and public champion for science. The scientists words sent chills down Albertos spine. The idea that we are all made from the stuff of stars, that we are cosmic matter evolved over time to the point where we can communicate is amazing to me, Alberto says. I like to travel and communicate with the people I meet. When you think about conversations, we are sharing space and time that will never come back again. I dont think about it when Im doing it. But when I walk away from a half-hour conversation with someone happy, I have a strong appreciation for the interaction.
of Albertos parents had the chance to go to college. His father started
working right out of high school, was married and had a family to
care for. My parents were keen on making sure we had a strong
education, Alberto, now 40, says. It was very important.
Not by accident, my brother and sister and I are oriented to education
and science. His brother, Aaron, is a medical doctor of psychology
and his sister, Linda, is a mathematics professor at the University
of Córdoba, in Argentina where the family grew up.
|A look of disbelief as a rock dredge yields just one tiny piece of glass. Because of the high technology available for geochemical analyses, even a tiny chip a glass is sufficient to allow the chemical composition of the lava to be determined.
high school, an exceptional teacher motivated Alberto to study chemistry. If the same professor had taught something else, probably I
would like something else. Looking to continue his chemistry
studies in the mountains, rather than the lab, Alberto turned to geology
at the University of Córdoba. My mentor was Carlos Gordillo
and he studied petrology and geochemistry. He was the most serious
scientist in the geology department. He loved what he was doing and
was exciting to learn from.
As Alberto was finishing his Ph.D. at Córdoba, he decided he
wanted to leave Argentina and move to the United States. When Alberto
received the fax from Prof. Fred Frey of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT) inviting him to study, I knew I was holding
something in my hand that would be a huge change in my life.
For part of his research at MIT, Alberto traveled to the mountains
of Argentina, collecting rock samples from high in the Andes between
35°S and 37°S.
that time his wife, Eliana, finished her Ph.D. in biology from the
University of Córdoba and joined him. Eliana now works at the
Department of Molecular Biology at Harvard Massachusetts General Hospital.
From 1994 to 1999 Alberto focused his studies in oceanography, earning
a second Ph.D. through MITs program at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
in Woods Hole, Mass.
Alberto was the first to try out the new pool...fully clothed, of course.
Those six years at Woods Hole were the best in my academic life.
Alberto says. I had the opportunity to work with Stan Hart,
who is in my opinion the best advisor and best scientist I ever met.
I was with an excellent group of people who are extremely good scientists.
It's difficult to get a group of people together who are nice, work
hard and are happy doing what they are doing. Alberto begins
his research with many different questions. As I progress in
my research, I give priority to the questions I can find answers to
He currently works as an associate research scientist at Columbia
Universitys Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York.
And even though he and his wife work in other cities, they make sure
to see each other often, at least every other weekend. It depends
on our workloads. Well take turns, whoever has the least amount of
work will go to the other city for the week. This is Albertos
second seagoing research expedition. He is excited about the Galápagos
lava we are collecting and the questions he will be able to answer