5 Things About Me: Micropaleontologist/Paleoceanographer Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas addresses attendees at the 2012 AGU meeting in San Francisco. (Photo: Gary Wagner http://www.garywagnerphotos.com/)

Ellen Thomas, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Department of Geology & Geophysics
Yale University
New Haven, CT
 
Background: I use microscopic fossils to reveal evolution and adaptation in the oceans from coastal marshes to deep-sea floor, then use trace element and isotope data on their shells to reconstruct the environment where they lived, hoping to use information on past global changes in predicting the future of marine ecosystems.
 
Question 1: Share a story from your past that led to your choosing your field of work.
Answer: I always liked science, but had a difficult time choosing in which one to major. Geosciences gave me the option to combine rather than choose. When asking information on studying geosciences (1968, Netherlands), however, I was told that women do not study geology. That was enough to make me decide to do just that.
 
Question 2: What are you most proud of in your work?
Answer: Looking at deep-sea, bottom-dwelling microfossils led to recognition of a period of extreme, rapid global-warming in the past, now widely used as an analog for future warming, as well as recognition that this period was not unique.
 
Question 3: What fuels your passion for your work?
Answer: My passion for my work is fueled by a plain but deep-seated curiosity, keeping a childish passion to find out by 'playing in the mud,' and refusing to grow up.
 
Question 4: What's playing on your iPod/music player?
Answer: I'm showing my age: Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, and the Byrds, but also Coldplay.
 
Question 5: Read a book you are dying to tell your peers about? Give us a brief summary and why you love it.
Answer: "An Instance of the Fingerpost" by Iain Pears. I much enjoyed the portrayal of science in the 1660s, as presented from contradictory points of view, a beautiful way of realizing how much, and what we learn, but also in what respect we humans have not changed over centuries.