Featured Scholar: Alia J. Lesnek

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Featured Scholar: Alia J. Lesnek
Series Title:
Journal of Undergraduate Research
Smelt, Walter
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
Publication Date:


serial ( sobekcm )

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
UF00091523_00602 ( sobekcm )


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University of Florida | Journal of U ndergraduate Research | Volume 15, Issue 3 | Summer 2014 1 Alia J. Lesnek Featured Scholar Journal of Undergraduate Research As a child, Alia Lesnek enjoyed collecting rocks and minerals like pirite (or fools gold) and tourmaline, but she had no idea it could constitute a course of study, let alone a car eer. When she came to the University of Florida, she started out as a Psychology major. But then she took a geology class accidentally, she says, and found her calling among the rocks that had fascinated her growing up. Lesnek, who graduated from UF in t he spring, says of her chosen field, Geology is unique in that it combines different kinds of physical sciencechemistry, physics, biology which I think is really neat. I like being able to go outside and look at something and say, Thats how this formed She applied that knowledge of the earths processes to water samples collected in Greenland in order to write her featured paper. Basically, she says, we were trying to see if there was any sort of chemical difference between waters in two different watersheds near glaciers in Greenland. One was a watershed coming from a glacier, and another came from lakes completely unconnected to the glacier system. That way, we could tell if there were different minerals dissolving in the water. Her project was part of a larger one investigating the connection of certain water systems to glaciers and then checking that against the marine records. These records, Lesnek says, are useful to geologists because they go back a really long time, so theyre a very accur ate depiction of climate over a long period of time. This project fits into the issue of climate change because it will allow us to interpret those marine records better, so we can see how those icecaps and glaciers were behaving when the earth was 10 degr ees warmer, how fast they melted, that kind of thing. We can use the past as a way to predict what might happen in the future. Lesneks paper is based on a lot of work in the lab, where she analyzed the samples from different locations in Greenland. We separated them into little bottles, I used something like an eyedropper to put them in tubes, and then I ran them through a machine that spit out what the water was composed of. It took a lot of patience, and it was a good learning experience because I foun d out what lab work is like. Lesnek was assisted in this process by one of her co authors on the paper, Kelly Deuerling, a PhD student on the Greenland project. As Lesnek says, Science is a lot more collaborative than people give it credit for. People im agine the scientist alone in the lab, toiling away in isolation, but its great to work with a lot of people and just bounce ideas off each other. Lesneks other co author, Dr. Jonathan Martin, helped her through several drafts of the paper, giving her gu idance in revising and encouraging her through the process. The hardest part, Lesnek says, was figuring out how to express my ideas both graphically and in words, taking all the raw data and making a story out of it so I could write a paper on it. Even b efore she began work on the Greenland project, Lesnek was trained to make deductions from partial data by the geology classes she took at UF, especially the ones involving field trips. Once, she went to New Mexico for six weeks to do geological mapping. T hey gave us a general map of the area with some topographic lines on it to tell you the elevation, and you walked around and figured out what rocks were outcropping, or sticking out, and what angle they were sticking out at, and you went over as much of th e area as you could to get a picture of what the rocks look like on the surface. And with that data you could


JOURNAL OF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH FEATURED SCHOLAR University of Florida | Journal of U ndergraduate Research | Volume 15, Issue 3 | Summer 2014 2 make a crosssection to see what it looks like underground. One of the areas she mapped was even famous: It was a ghost ranch. If youve seen Co wboys and Aliens, its in the first scene. Although Lesnek spent a long time working with water from Greenland, she never went there to collect it herself. Now, when asked about her future plans, she grows excited. Im going to grad school at the State U niversity of New York in Buffalo in the fall, and Ill be traveling to almost the same area of Greenland in a couple of weeks for my graduate project. But well be doing different kinds of sampling, to figure out when the glacier advances or retreats. Wer e looking at it during the Holocene, the last 12,000 years. Of course, on the geological timescale, 12,000 years is the recent past. When asked about her own recent past and what shell miss about UF and Gainesville, Lesnek is quick to answer. Im going to miss Florida football. I dont think the school up here has a football team, and I always enjoyed the school spirit. I miss the oranges, too. They arent as good up here in Buffalo. And I have entirely too many shorts to live up here. As for her future she isnt yet certain what shell do after finishing her masters in geology. She says, Im not entirely sure about a PhD. Id like to, but Im waiting to see if I like graduate school and academia. Theres a lot of work [for geologists] in the oil and gas industry, but I dont really want to do that. She laughs. Because I like the earth. There is the US Geological Survey, and there are environmental firms I could potentially work for, so theres a lot out there. As for that rock collection she had as a child? I actually still have a couple of those rocks with me up here. I have some cool samples of tourmaline, Im looking at one right now. I got it from Stone Mountain in Georgia. I went up the mountain and found it there. Walter Smelt, III