February 7 2006
Indiana State University senior Jared Kluesner has come a long way from the days when childhood curiosity led him to examine individual rocks he found at his dad's construction sites.
After deciding two years ago to major in geology, Kluesner has taken part in four significant research projects, at least two of which involved international teams of scientists.
That research has taken the Linton-Stockton High School graduate to Venice for a study of the effects of sediment on the Italian city's lagoons; and to the Pacific Ocean twice, including an October expedition off the Mexican coast that solved a 45-year-old geologic mystery. He has also been involved in research into the origins of a long ago tsunami in the Gulf of Alaska.
Along the way, Kluesner has reported on his research at the Geological Society of America National Conference in Salt Lake City and at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago.
Originally a computer science major when he transferred to Indiana State after completing an associate's degree at Vincennes University, Kluesner switched majors and caught the research bug after taking a class from Tony Rathburn, assistant professor of geology and director of Indiana State's Paleontology/Paleoceanography Lab.
"It's unexplainable the experiences I've been able to have. I never thought it possible that within six months I'd be going on a research cruise in San Diego and the following summer end up in Venice, Italy, taking my own samples for my own research. It's quite amazing," Kluesner said, noting that his former major actually complements his new one.
"After I switched my major, I do more computer science-type work involving my research than I ever have before, so they really are going hand in hand," he said.
Rathburn came to ISU in 2001 and serves as a research associate scientist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Through his experience with Scripps and continued involvement with the famed institution based at the University of California, San Diego, he has introduced several students from landlocked Indiana to the field of oceanography. Scripps has played a role in all of Kluesner's research.
Both Rathburn and Kluesner took part in last summer's Venice expedition and continue to work with scientists from Italy and the United States on a two-year, project with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography SEDiment research group (SIOSED) in conjunction with the Venice Water Authority, Consorzio Venezia Nuova, and Thetis SPA. The project is associated with the effort by the Italian government to safeguard Venice and its lagoon, the coastal wetland that surrounds the city and links directly with the Adriatic Sea.
The SIOSED project will assess the geochemical, physical, microbial, toxicological and ecological processes involved in sediment movement and their effects in such a sensitive ecosystem.
Venice's lagoon channels must be dredged annually. Rathburn and Kluesner are examining the effects of the dredging of sediment on foraminifera, tiny, shelled marine animals that are particularly sensitive to environmental changes.
As part of its continued commitment to active, engaged learning, Indiana State awarded Kluesner a Lilly Endowment Undergraduate Research Fellowship to enable him to participate in the Venice project.
It is important for students to have such real-world experiences, Rathburn said.
"This provides them with the opportunity to learn techniques in the field that they wouldn't be able to get any other way," he said.
"It's a wonderful experience to be able to go out and take the samples, bring them back and do the research, and then present that research at a conference. You're more confident when you present your research if you're the one who was able to collect and process the samples," Kluesner said.
"The Venice project is a unique opportunity for me, as well as the students," Rathburn added. "We're able to work with a large team of biologists and chemists and oceanographic modelers. That combination enhances our ability to be able to make measurements and be able to correlate what we find with some of the other organisms and some of the other parameters in the lagoon."
A few short months after returning from Venice, Kluesner joined fellow ISU student Chandranath Basak in a six-day Scripps cruise last October and was aboard the research ship R/V Roger Revelle when a team of U.S. and Mexican geologists hauled in volcanic rocks containing high pressure gas bubbles that exploded when exposed to the air.
"I was on one of the tag lines with one of the ropes when we brought the dredge up," Kluesner said. " As soon as it came up you could hear it start popping like popcorn and everyone started cheering."
The site off the coast of Baja California, 200 miles south of San Diego where the researchers found the so-called "popping rocks," had been explored in 1960, but its precise location was unknown until the October cruise. A 1984 attempt to locate the ridge where the rocks were found proved unsuccessful, largely because navigational equipment available then was not as accurate as that in use today.
Scripps scientists say further analysis of the rocks will provide important information about the composition and origin of the mantle beneath oceanic crust.
The cruise in which the "popping rocks" were discovered was the second for Kluesner involving the Pacific. His first oceanographic expedition was a University of San Diego student research cruise on the Scripps research vessel R/V Robert Gordon Sproul in the fall of 2004.
That same year, Rathburn served as chief scientist on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-sponsored expedition with SIO scientists in the Gulf of Alaska that examined the origins of a 1946 tsunami. While Kluesner did not join Rathburn, four Indiana State students and a post-doctoral researcher on that cruise, he was involved in the subsequent research into previously undiscovered methane seeps and deep sea coral habitat the expedition discovered.
Kluesner will graduate from Indiana State in May. He is considering attending graduate school in order to become a college professor himself. Kluesner's parents, Tony and Donna Kluesner, endorsed their son's decision to switch majors after completing three years of college, even though it meant taking several additional classes.
"I'd never quite seen the passion that he had when he talked about geology and that this was something he really thought he'd enjoy, especially working in the lab and doing research. Because of that, we said OK," said Donna Kluesner.
"We're very impressed with ISU's ability to send him on these experiences. He's more organized and results-oriented since he's been in this program," she said.
Indiana State, Scripps and Rathburn may have awakened a penchant for research that began in Jared's childhood.
"I'm a builder and you always have gravel piles around the job," said Tony Kluesner. "I can remember Jared going out through the pea gravel pile and picking up rocks and looking at them. I guess back then there was a sign that things could happen down the road."
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