'ACCESS'ing Geology & Geophysics

ACCESS Scholars faculty liaison, Sarah Lambart, initially got involved in the program because she wanted to host students in her lab. An Assistant Professor in Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah, Lambart wanted to offer hands-on activity in small research projects that students could actually work on during the semester. "I really liked working with ACCESS students. [They are] very smart ... very enthusiastic, very curious about learning new things, and so when they created this faculty liaison position, it's something I knew I would be interested [in].”

As principal investigator (PI) of the MagMaX Lab, recent projects have included working of the cause of excess magmatism during the Northeast Atlantic breakup (IDOP Expedition 396), magma genesis and transport, quantifying the mantle heterogeneity and the implications for the Earth dynamics, and, more recently, better understand the formation of critical minerals and ore deposits. If this sounds like an intense program focused on the chemistry of Earth and planetary interiors, it clearly is, especially with her emphasis on the role of magmatic processes during the differentiation and chemical evolution of terrestrial planets. "I use experimental devices such as piston-cylinders and one atmosphere furnaces to simulate high pressure-temperature conditions relevant for planetary interiors as well as various analytical techniques. Those highly-specialized techniques are designed to characterize synthesized and natural samples. "Because one limiting aspect of solid-media apparatus is that all experiments are performed in closed-systems," she writes in her research statement, "I also use innovative experimental strategies to investigate new topics." Those strategies include simulation of magma circulation and magma-rock interaction or melt segregation. The lab team also uses thermodynamic modeling to extrapolate the data they collect and/or as support for semi-empirical models.

It's exactly the kind of rigor that an ACCESS Scholar interested in earth sciences can sink their proverbial shovel into or their underwater collection implements from the bottom of the sea. (More on that later.)

But Lambart's mentoring and department-based liaisoning with ACCESS has a very human side as well. “So first, I am a woman," she says about a STEM discipline that historically has been male-centric. "But I was also a first-generation student.." Currently, most of the students in her team are also "first-gen." "I understand what challenges you might have when you don't necessarily know how the system works. I'm also from France, and so when I arrived in the US, I didn't know how the system worked. I think providing this opportunity very early on in ... [a student's] career, in their degree, can actually really make a difference at the end. So that's why I was very happy to contribute to this program.”

As a faculty liaison, Lambart coordinates the summer activities that take place in Geology & Geophysics, meets with a group of students on a monthly basis for mentorship, and serves on the selection committee. She has hosted three ACCESS scholars in her lab to date.

Expedition 396 women scientific team. From left: Sarah Lambart (Petrologist, University of Utah, USA), Weimu Xu (Sedimentologist, University College Dublin, Ireland), Stacy Yaeger (Micropaleontologist, Ball State University, USA), Sayantani Chatterjee (Inorganic Geochemist, Niigata University, Japan), Marialena Christopoulou (Sedimentologist, Northern Illinois University, USA), Natalia Varela (Paleomagnetist, Virginia Tech, USA), and Irina Filina (Physical Properties Specialist, University of Nebraska, USA). (Credit: Sandra Herrmann, IODP JRSO) [Photo ID: exp396_254]. ^^ banner photo above: courtesy of Sarah Lambart.

A native of Rennes, France, Lambart earned her doctorate from Clermont Auvergne University in 2010 followed by work as a postdoctoral research fellow at first Caltech (2010-2013) and Columbia University (2013-2015). She then took an appointment as a visiting assistant professor at UC Davis (2015-2016. In 2017, she became a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at Cardiff University in Wales, before landing at the U in 2018. She first got interested in her current research as a child; she had a picture of a volcano in Costa Rica in her bedroom that she had cut out of a National Geographic magazine. In high school she decided she wanted to pursue her passion for volcanoes through research.

"From our observations of the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands," says Lambart, "to the discovery of submarine volcanic chains (i.e., mid-ocean ridges) by Marie Tharp more than seventy years ago, we know that our planet is shaped by plate tectonics and magmatism. Combining geochemistry, experimental petrology and thermodynamic modeling, my lab produces innovative tools to constrain the role of crustal recycling, one of the motor of plate tectonics, on the nature of the mantle source of magmas." She remarks that, because of familiar models, most people do not know that the interior of the Earth is actually the color green, not red. "Most representations of the interior of the Earth in textbooks show it red to express the high temperature environment. However, the mantle is dominated by a rock called peridotite that is mostly made of olivine and pyroxenes, two green minerals," she says. (Click here for a 3D picture of a peridotite, as part of the U's Geo 3D rock collection.)

Recent research from Lambart's MagMaX lab includes an article by former student Otto Lang MS'21 on a new approach to constrainthe mineralogy of the magma sources. "I was [also] lucky to be involved in a recent publication on recommendation for sharing F.A.I.R (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) geochemical data," she says. Her work has taken Lambart to, literally, the far ends of the planet. Insights from results obtained during IODP Expedition 396, on which Lambart has sailed on, were published in 2023. (IODP is an  international marine research collaboration that explores Earth's history and dynamics using ocean-going research platforms to recover data recorded in seafloor sediments and rocks and to monitor sub seafloor environments.) Finally, a highly anticipated paper is expected soon by Ashley Morris, a doctorate student in Lambart's group who worked on an early Eocene dacitic unit collected during the same expedition.

ACCESS Scholars is about the whole being greater than the some of its research parts. The program's signature is to meld academic work with networking, mentoring and work/life balance, a unique undergraduate amalgam in which creativity is paired with analytical inquiry and where experiential learning, in all its forms, is at a premium. As an ACCESS faculty liaison in Geology and Geophysics, Sarah Lambart is no exception. "I love hiking and visiting national parks," she says of her life outside the lab. "During my professional training, I had to cross the country twice. My husband and I used this opportunity to visit as many national parks we could. So far, we visited 32, many multiple times! And I’m sure we will continue to explore new parks in the future."

Sporting an adventurous ethic—from the Atlantic seafloor to 32 of the likes of Yosemite National Park—Sarah Lambart is poised to mentor future Earth scientists at the U.

By David Pace and Seth Harper