Featured DRI Graduate Students

Gary Trubl, Dec. 2012 Featured DRI Graduate Student

Meet Gary Trubl, a student working towards his masters in Environmental Science and currently studying the biogeochemistry related to denitrification of Lake Vida, Antarctica.

What brought you to DRI?
Well… a new experience, DRI’s reputation, and Dr. Alison Murray. I was intrigued by Dr. Murray’s project entitled: Geochemistry and Microbiology of the Extreme Aquatic Environment in Lake Vida, East Antarctica. I also wanted to continue my education outside of Arizona and after touring DRI and talking with Dr. Murray I was hooked.

I am from Phoenix, Arizona. I received my BS in Environmental Microbiology from the University of Arizona. At UA I worked for the USDA-ARS developing new biocontrols, using the fungus Aspergillus flavus, for agricultural crops.

What are you studying? What research projects are you working on? And who at DRI are you working with?

DRI-pic-smlI have been at DRI working towards my MS in Environmental Science since August 2011.

Currently, I am studying the biogeochemistry related to denitrification of Lake Vida, Antarctica. In our lab I work with Ema Kuhn and Paula B. Matheus Carnevali. Each of us research cryoecosystems, with Paula studying the Arctic and Ema and I studying the Antarctic.

In 2005 and in 2010 expeditions to Lake Vida, Antarctica revealed the highest levels of nitrous oxide ever to be found in a terrestrial environment. Nitrous oxide is a very important greenhouse gas and is considered a bio-signature for life on other plants. This Lake has the potential to reveal a lot about Earth’s history and serves as an analog for icy worlds such as Europa, Enceladus, and Ganymede.

My research involves studying microbes that live in brine under 19 meters (~62 feet) of ice from Lake Vida. Brine is a term given to water with a high salt concentration. Lake Vida brine is made up of 18% sodium chloride (6 times as salty as the ocean) and contains high levels of: iron, dissolved organic carbon, nitrate, ammonium, and nitrous oxide. Lake Vida is considered one of the most extreme environments on Earth. The brine has been sealed away from oxygen and the sun for about 2,800 years, its average temperature is -13.4°C, and it is very salty.

My goal is to determine the source of the nitrous oxide in Lake Vida. We think there are two possible explanations for the nitrous oxide under the ice. My previous research indicated that the microbes living in the brine can perform a process known as denitrification. In this process microbes use nitrate as an energy source and produce either nitrous oxide or nitrogen. Another process that may be occurring is chemodenitrification. In this process the nitrate/nitrite in the brine interacts with the iron from the soil to produce nitrous oxide. It is likely both of these processes are occurring causing the very high level of nitrous oxide.

What are your short-term and long-term goals while at DRI?

My short term goals are to obtain my MS this May and start my PhD program. My long term goal is to become a university professor researching exobiology, astrobiology, and extremophiles.

Tell us about yourself. What do you do for fun?

AGU-2012-12I love bowling, being outdoors, Coke, and cheese! On a weekly basis I bowl at GSR, attend UNR Crossfit, take ballroom dancing lessons with my wife, and go to the movies (my wife and I are movie junkies). I also just finished up an intramural volleyball season.

An ideal day for me is waking up around 10am, having some cheese, drinking a coke, and doing something outdoors with friends.

What problem in the world troubles you most? And if given the chance and unlimited resources, how would you solve it?

It’s upsetting to me to see the lack of funding available to support higher education in America. In my opinion funding higher education and motivating young people to get a university degree can help solve all of the world’s problems. If more people were educated, it would lead to finding more solutions to problems and issues around the world.

I believe undergraduate education should be free and high school curriculum should be revised to push students into college after graduation. Our current high schools are still programed to prepare students for the work force. As we have advanced beyond the industrial age, most all high paying jobs and career track positions require advanced degrees. With only a high school education, a person can hardly be expected to acquire a high paying, rewarding career in a field they love. I believe college is for everyone and there is a major or area of study for everyone.

If I had unlimited resources I would make college or university a mandatory part of the education system. I would make it free, available to everyone and I would make programs designed for student success and job placement.

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