Geochemist Profile

Dr. Lisa M. Pratt

Dr. Lisa M. PrattProvost’s Professor of Geological Sciences 

 Dr. Lisa M. Pratt – Geochemist

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What I do:

I am a professor of geological sciences at Indiana University, specializing in geochemistry. I believe in teaching my students through field and laboratory experiences – hands on learning. I also have worked with NASA on a variety of projects, the most recent of which focused on Mars.

Proud Moments in My Career:

I was the first woman hired to teach in Geology at Indiana University and the first woman to be in charge of the department.

How I became interested in a science career:

I love being outdoors. I grew up in Minnesota, in an area with wetlands and lots of wild areas. My father and I used to go outside on weekends and I’d collect things like fossils, toads, and snakes to bring home. I enjoyed learning about science in school, but back then it was unusual for girls to pursue careers in science. It wasn’t until I got to college that I fell in love with Geology and decided to make it my life’s work. The geologic record lets you reconstruct the past and explore an ancient world that no one has ever seen. You get to work both out of doors and back in time. I love exploring an ancient world with oceans, continents, and lifeforms that no one has ever seen!

My interests :

I am interested in studying microorganisms and the role they play in geological processes. I also look at sulfur isotopes in oceans and lakes and the influence of wildfire on carbon isotopes during the Cretaceous period. One of my favorite interests is studying the fate of organic molecules on the surface of Mars.

My Career Path:

I started out in college as a Spanish language major, but soon realized I was more interested in science. I had a great geology professor who made the history of the earth come alive for me. He encouraged me to continue in school and I went on to get my Master’s degree and then a PhD in Geology. Afterwards, I worked for the United States Geological Survey and then started teaching at Indiana University. I get to work at field sites in Montana and conduct research in Greenland every summer.

Education and Training:

    • Ph.D., Geology, Princeton University
    • M.S., Geology, University of North Carolina
    • B.A., Botany, University of North Carolina

Glossary of Terms:

Geochemistry –  the study of chemical changes in minerals, soils, ores, rocks, water, and the atmosphere.

Geologic record –  layers of rock that are deposited over time and preserve the history of earth’s past events and life forms.

Microorganisms  – organisms too small to be seen with the unaided eye, including bacteria, protozoans, yeasts, viruses, and algae.

Isotopes – different forms of an element, like Carbon or Sulfur, that occur when atoms have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus.

Organic molecule – extremely small particle found in living systems and usually made of carbon atoms.

Cretaceous – a geologic period between 146 to 65 million years ago when dinosaurs and flowering plants flourished.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were to interview Lisa Pratt, what questions would you ask her?
  2. Dr. Pratt studies the fate of organic molecules on the surface of Mars. Why do you think this is an important topic to study? How do you think she goes about this investigation?
  3. Why do you think it is useful to study chemicals in older geologic layers? Why would this be interesting for the Cretaceous period?
  4. Dr. Pratt mentioned having an influential teacher. Why do you think having a mentor is important?

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