Masiello elected fellow of the Geological Society of America

Rice University biogeochemist recognized for research on organic carbon in soils

Rice University biogeochemist Caroline Masiello has been elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America, a global professional society dedicated to the advancement of the geosciences.

Masiello, professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences, of chemistry and of biosciences, joined Rice in 2004. Her research bridges organic geochemistry, soil science and geology. In announcing 70 new 2017 fellows, GSA recognized Masiello for “outstanding contributions into understanding the role of organic carbon in soils across Earth’s surface, which impacts a wide range of geoscience and other fields, such as agriculture and climate change.”

Carrie Masiello

Carrie Masiello

Society fellowship is an honor bestowed via election by the GSA Council. Society members are nominated for fellowship by existing GSA Fellows in recognition of their distinguished contributions to the geosciences through such avenues as publications, applied research, teaching, administration of geological programs, contributing to the public awareness of geology, leadership of professional organizations, and taking on editorial, bibliographic and library responsibilities. Masiello was nominated by Rice’s Gerald Dickens, professor of Earth science.

Masiello’s research focuses on the development and application of tools to understand the cycling and fate of Earth’s carbon. Much of her work has involved the use of radiocarbon, nuclear magnetic resonance and various other forms of spectroscopy and microscopy to understand the cycling and fate of charcoal, a material that plays an important role in Earth’s long-term storage of carbon. For example, some farmers are intentionally adding charcoal to soils to store carbon and improve crop performance, and Masiello’s work has contributed to both the theoretical understanding of the mechanisms controlling charcoal’s environmental recalcitrance and to improved understanding of the mechanisms driving charcoal’s ability to alter agronomic processes.

Her most recent work has expanded to include the application of new synthetic biology tools to improve understanding of microbial processes that drive carbon, nitrogen and water fluxes in the Earth system. Masiello was one of the first Earth scientists to recognize the new capabilities of synthetic biology for the construction of laboratory tools to address difficult theoretical problems in carbon and nitrogen cycling. She leads a Rice team that was recently awarded $1 million by the Keck Foundation to build new microbial biosensors appropriate for soil and marine science applications. These organisms report on their environmental experiences (e.g. temperature, moisture, nutrient status) and/or their decision-making (e.g. horizontal gene transfer, greenhouse-gas emissions, pathogenicity) by releasing non-volatile gases.

Masiello also is deeply committed to creative teaching, science outreach and advocacy for underrepresented groups in science. She has mentored the research experiences of 27 undergraduates, 14 of whom are underrepresented minorities and 19 of whom are women. Her research group regularly hosts public school teachers from local school districts, mentoring them through the development of Earth science curricular materials appropriate for the K-12 community. She also has collaborated with Rice’s Program in Writing and Communication and with Rice’s Center for Teaching Excellence to expand students’ skills in writing and public speaking, both within existing classes and through the creation of capstone communication courses.

Headquartered in Boulder, Colo., the GSA has more than 26,000 members from academia, government, and industry in more than 100 countries. Through its meetings, publications, and programs, the society enhances the professional growth of its members and promotes the geosciences in the service of humankind. GSA encourages cooperative research among Earth, life, planetary, and social scientists, fosters public dialogue on geoscience issues, and supports all levels of Earth science education.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.