The fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) was held this past December with strong representation from Rice. The largest Earth and space science meeting in the world, AGU brings together the best and brightest from around the globe to share research, gain insights and connect with others in the field.
“Some sciences will have their own specialized conferences but AGU brings all Earth sciences together: hydrology, geology, atmospheric and even space science,” said Alex Bui, graduate student in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), and a first-time attendee.
About 10 students from the CEE department were accepted to present posters or give talks during the conference, which was held in New Orleans.
Bui gave a fifteen-minute talk at the conference, focused on characterizing how organic aerosols form above and below a forest canopy. Aerosols are small particles that are suspended in the air, and they are important because they can impact our climate and health. Bui collected this data during a 2016 field campaign in Michigan.
Katherine Anarde, also a graduate student in CEE, presented a poster and lightning talk in a session focused on the 2017 hurricane season. AGU lighting talks are abbreviated oral presentations ranging from five to eight minutes, including Q&A. “Trying to cover all of the main points about my research in five minutes was challenging,” she said. “But it was a great experience to practice simplifying my conclusions into a quick talk that can be better understood by a broad audience.”
Anarde’s research focuses on measuring hydrodynamics at the coast during hurricanes. Researchers from Rice and Texas A&M have been working to develop “rapid response units” that contain scientific instruments that can withstand hurricane attack and measure storm surge and waves as they travel across barrier islands. Before Hurricane Harvey, Anarde placed several units on two barrier islands along the Texas coast. The instruments stayed in place and recorded infragravity waves, a type of ocean surface wave that can be particularly damaging during storms.
“It’s a relatively unique dataset, in that you can link the observations of long waves traveling across a barrier island to how sand was displaced during the hurricane,” Anarde said. “These types of measurements are really important in terms of improving models that predict storm impacts at the coast, and for longer-term beach management research.”
Luckily, there were no large-scale changes to the coastline that Anarde studied, though she stressed that even though the effects were minor, the data showing what processes were moving sand were priceless.
Bui said the experience of going to the conference was invaluable.
“It was the first time going for a lot of us. The breadth of all the talks was really impactful,” he said. “Sometimes you can feel mired in your own area, toiling away at your research. At the conference, you’re exposed to the range of research going on, and you realize you’re a part of that. It’s an awesome experience.”
Anarde agreed. “Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in your own niche, and at a conference as large as AGU it’s nice to see how your work fits into the broader field.”
The conference provides students with multiple networking and career building opportunities, which Bui said is one of its most beneficial aspects, in addition to getting broad feedback on research and meeting faculty from other universities.
“If you are an aspiring graduate student, it’s the best way to advertise yourself, because you will meet faculty from many universities. Most of the major research universities attend the conference,” Bui said.
“If you are an undergraduate thinking about grad school, reach out to faculty before the conference,” Anarde said. “Start those relationships early and keep the ball rolling.”