May 11, 2004

Graduate student wins two research awards

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - A Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate student from Cameroon is the recipient of two prestigious research awards.

Geraldine Nzokwe is receiving a $1,300 graduate student research grant from the Geological Society of America and a $1,000 Hugh E. McKinstry Student Research Award from the Society of Economic Geologists.

Her project, "Peridotitic Laterite Soil Magneto-Stratigraphy," focuses on alteration profiles from New Caledonia and their similarities with disintegrated and decomposed rock fragments, including soil, on the Martian surface.Nzokwe is only the second geology department student in many years to receive the GSA award, and she is only one of 16 students nationwide this year to receive the Society of Economic Geologists Award, said Eric Ferre, an SIUC assistant professor in geology.

The most current knowledge of surface processes on Mars comes from images gathered by lunar orbiters and two lunar rover expeditions, said Ferre. A number of features on Mars' surface indicate the climate has not always been dry and cold, and that standing water was also present at the surface. Standing water also implies it was not frozen, suggesting warmer temperatures in the past.

In New Caledonia, a particular type of rock, called peridotite, outcrops over large areas and is subject to weathering under a hot and humid climate. The infrared spectroscopic properties and magnetic properties of these rocks share similarities with Mars' surface.

Nzokwe is a native of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. She earned her bachelor's degree in environmental sciences from the University of Buea in Cameroon in 2000, and is currently working on her master's degree in geology at SIUC.

Attracting high-quality graduate and professional students is among the objectives of Southern@150, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.