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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Jamestown resident graduates from URI as top geology student

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 19, 2006 -- Growing up in Wisconsin, Sara Lincoln enjoyed looking for fossils in the limestone quarry behind her house. Now a resident of Jamestown, she’ll graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 21 as the top geology student and recipient of the URI President’s Award for Student Excellence.

“I took a pretty circuitous path to the study of geology, but I’ve always been interested in the subject,” Lincoln said.

She first enrolled at URI to prepare for a career in art history. “I wanted to study and restore ancient sculpture, so I took geology and mineralogy courses to learn more about the properties of rocks,” she said. “I loved those classes and soon realized that I’m more interested in the rocks themselves than in what people have done to them.”

A class field trip to the Colorado Plateau convinced Lincoln that a career in geology was in her future. Studying the course of ancient rivers, climbing a volcanic cinder cone, looking down from the edge of a vast meteor crater, seeing the footprints of dinosaurs, and especially hiking down through several hundred million years of history in the Grand Canyon “really gave me a sense of the depth and drama contained in the geologic record,” she said.

As a student at URI, Lincoln conducted several research projects examining marine geology. In one, she studied the soils on the floor of Wickford Harbor and Greenwich Bay to learn how human activities impact local estuaries. She also studied the layers of sediment on the floor of the Narrow River. “It’s a unique setting,” she explained. “Its well-preserved, annually-deposited layers of sediment tell us a lot about local climate change. And they also reflect global climate signals.”

Lincoln’s final URI research project is in collaboration with astrobiologists at the Graduate School of Oceanography who are studying the microbial activity in subseafloor sediments to determine what sources of energy are available for the microbes to feed on.

Next fall, Lincoln will enroll in a doctoral program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Much of my research at URI has focused on recent geologic processes,” she said. “For graduate study I want to switch tracks and go back several hundred million years. I plan to work on the geologic record of archaea – one of the three domains of life, just discovered in 1977 – in an approach combining organic geochemistry and microbial genomics.”

Lincoln is especially interested in the origin and early evolution of life on Earth, and she looks forward to a long and active research career. “I’m especially intrigued by the co-evolution of biology and geology,” she said. “The planet was once very different than it is now, and microbes helped change it into the world we know.”

Pictured above, Sara Lincoln at the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Sara Lincoln.