mantle to microbe: a grad student's first conference

Hi ScienceBlogs... it is GREAT to be here!

I just spent the weekend with many of the scientists whose research has comprised the bulk of my reading material (ie brain-biggering) over the last 1.5 years... yikes! I also got to meet many other young scientists hoping to make a career out of this crazy science game. It was totally awesome, and quite a whirlwind.

I was at the 2010 Ridge2000 community meeting in Portland, OR. It was a meeting of about 140 people united by their shared interested in better understanding what goes on at mid-ocean ridges. We represented disciplines ranging from geophysics, to macrofaunal ecology, to geochemistry, to microbiology. There were thematic sessions dedicated to sensors and technology, volcanic "event" response, biogeochemical processes, biogeography, modeling, mantle and crustal processes, and education and outreach. There were also location specific sessions bringing together all the researchers who work in one particular area.

The uniting theme of the Ridge 2000 program, and what makes it relevant to this blog, is "from mantle to microbe". The program's goals are explained on the website as follows:

"to work toward a comprehensive, integrated understanding of the relationships among the geological and geophysical processes of planetary renewal on oceanic spreading centers and the seafloor and subseafloor ecosystems that they support. Studies under the Ridge 2000 program are defined by an integrated, whole-system approach encompassing a wide range of disciplines and a progressive focus within scientifically defined, limited geographic areas."

I enjoy the idea of thinking in terms of mantle to microbe. I like the telescoping concepts of scale, the implication of inextricable linkages, and of course the clever alliteration. While "integrated" and "whole-system approach" can seem like buzz words, the cross-discipline collaborations evident at this meeting assured me that they are terms that actually describe what this group, as a whole, is doing.

I spent a lot of time over the last few days listening to the experts in my (and other) field(s) talk about the state of our knowledge, the accomplishments of the past couple of decades and their vision for the figure of vent research. In addition to being inspired and reaffirmed that I study the coolest environment out there (if Sir Attenborough can't sell it, no one can!), I was genuinely surprised and impressed by the dedication the community showed to sharing their work with scientists outside the "vent" community as well as with the broader public.

It is easy, especially as a grad student, to get caught up in the minutiae (pun intended) of what we study and lose sight of the fact that each scientist is part of a community of people dedicated to growing our understanding of this planet. My contribution is insignificant on its own (so far at least!), but after this weekend I feel a part of something much bigger, and much more significant.

... less sap next time, I promise.


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