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Natalia Zakharova, geology researcher

Drilling for geological answers

CMU faculty member on global team looking for climate data beneath ocean

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

​It didn't take long for Natalia Zakharova to launch into research after joining the earth and atmospheric sciences faculty in August.

At the end of January, the Central Michigan University assistant professor joined 33 scientists from around the world to study one of the most seismically active areas in Europe: a 5-million-year-old rift in the Gulf of Corinth.

The expedition drilled deep into the "young" rift for sediment cores that tell the geologic history of the area, such as faulting, landscape evolution, earthquake activity and climate fluctuations. Zakharova aims to bring some core samples back to CMU, where she has been creating a lab that she and students will use to study the conditions under which rocks break and rifts form.

"I really appreciate the support of the department in letting me leave in the middle of the semester," Zakharova said of the opportunity to join the International Ocean Discovery Program expedition conducted by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling.

Part of Zakharova's role on the expedition was to study the cores on land at the University of Bremen in Germany and integrate the new data with other data sets on the gulf. Watch a YouTube video of the core analysis here.

The data will "help us understand other active and ancient rift zones around the world," said co-chief scientist Donna Shillington, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, in a news release.

"I wanted to work in an academic environment where I could combine research with very good teaching. At CMU, I get both components." — CMU faculty member Natalia Zakharova

From Russia to CMU

Zakharova's specialty is geophysics, which means she uses physics to understand the Earth's past. Her main interests are in energy resources, environmental protection and climate change solutions.

She was born in Russia and did her undergraduate and master's work at Moscow State University. She received her Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York, where she also did postdoctoral research.

While her experience at Columbia was rewarding, she yearned to do more than research.

"I wanted to work in an academic environment where I could combine research with very good teaching. At CMU, I get both components.

"I also wanted to work in a smaller department where there would be a more collegial atmosphere. I loved the people here when I interviewed, and the joint emphasis on research and teaching and the potential for growth seemed to be a really good fit."

When she applied to the IODP, she mentioned that CMU had not yet been part of an expedition and was pleased to learn that the program recently had decided to expand its participation among universities.

She said she hopes that her experience will open the door for CMU graduate students to participate in the future.

"Natalia's participation in the Gulf of Corinth expedition is exciting for CMU geology students and faculty alike," said Lawrence Lemke, chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

"CMU geology students have already benefited from her ability to explain quantitative concepts in her classes, and they are eager to take her geophysics course next fall."

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