Off to the Races

I’ve been living in Kentucky for almost two years now, having moved here to work towards an M.S. degree in Geology at the University of Kentucky. Prior to moving to Lexington, the only thing I really knew about the Commonwealth was that it was well-known for Bourbon, Bluegrass, and horses. I have fond memories of chatting with my friends back home about moving to Kentucky, ironically sporting a flamboyant hat, and sipping Mint Juleps at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. My desire to do so was somewhat based off of a morbid curiosity that I picked up after reading the short essay “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. That story was written during a time with a different degree of civil unrest than today, but I figured there were elements of the atmosphere that may persist and could likewise permit an interesting cultural experience.

Unfortunately, I likely won’t get the chance to actually attend the Kentucky Derby. I spent last year in Nepal doing field work during the event and will be running my first ultramarathon in Virginia this year. So, unless life brings me back to Kentucky some early May, I’ll have to celebrate it remotely like so many others.

To make up for this; however, I accompanied the week’s seminar speaker to the Keeneland race track in Lexington for my first thoroughbred sporting event. Departmental seminars are common in the sciences (as well as many other disciplines). They offer the dual benefit of affording students and faculty members an opportunity to hear about research that others have been conducting as well as expanding professional networks by interacting with scientists outside of the home institution. For this particular seminar, Prof. Eric Ferré from Southern Illinois University presented on some work that stemmed from his time cruising with the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).

The IODP is an international research program that focusses on extracting cores of rock from deep within the Earth from below the sea-floor. IODP research vessels explore our planet’s vast oceans with the goal of gleaning information about that part of the Earth which we still don’t fully comprehend. For his talk, Dr. Ferre introduced audience members to a type of rock within oceanic crust that forms in so-called “fast-spreading” centers in a transition zone between sheeted dikes – where ocean water mixes readily with newly forming igneous rock – and less permeable rock that doesn’t see as much hydrologic influence (gabbro). Interestingly, this transition zone rock is also observed in ophiolites or oceanic rock that has made its way onto continents through a process called obduction.

I spend most of my time thinking about continental crust, which has a different composition than oceanic crust and therefore different properties. I was; however, able to draw parallels regarding how certain thermal and mechanical properties are affected by zones of transition within these different types of crust. With this idea in mind, Dr. Ferré and I were able to discuss elements of our research that may be complementary and forge out a tentative plan for future collaboration.

We happily discussed our respective projects between each of the exciting races at the Keeneland track. All the while I sipped on a Keeneland Breeze (not quite a Mint Julep) and we all did some crowd-observing (no extravagant hats, though).


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