Geology Student Broadens Horizons Aboard Research Vessel

By Peyton McElaney

In the summer of 2019, CLAUDIA BANKS was in the American Southwest, mapping formations of sedimentary and metamorphic rock for her capstone geology class. A few weeks later, the 2020 geology graduate found herself in a slightly different position — on-board a research vessel in the Pacific Ocean.

Claudia Banks (Image: Scott Harper)

While trading the arid terrain of the Southwest for the salty breeze of the Pacific may seem like a complete U-turn, for Banks this was just another opportunity to broaden her horizons.

Banks boarded the vessel as a participant in STEMSEAS, a program sponsored by Columbia University with aid from The National Science Foundation that allows undergraduate students to conduct scientific research at sea.

This was unknown territory for Banks, whose previous geology field trips had all been on land. Luckily, STEAMSEAS didn’t require any past research experience on the water.

“The point of the program is to get students interested in oceanography and science overall,” Banks said.

For one week (July 27 to August 3), Banks and her peers sailed from Newport, Oregon, to San Diego, California, aboard the R/V Atlantis, a research vessel capable of advanced investigation and exploration. The participants assisted in graduate student research and attended lectures twice a day discussing their academic futures, with topics that included preparation for internships along with scientific subjects such as hydrothermal vents.

While participating in the program, Banks became familiar with sophisticated technology – most notably the ALVIN submersible. One of the world’s few deep-sea research submersibles, ALVIN is famous for exploring the wreckage of the Titanic, among many other underwater research opportunities.

“It was such a unique experience that we students were very eagerly awaiting due to the prestigious reputation of this submersible among the scientific community,” she said. The 45,000-pound data-collecting vehicle, in operation since 1964, can reach depths up to 2.8 miles underwater.

Banks isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Shortly after her STEMSEAS experience, she presented research at the 2019 Geological Society of America conference in September. With plans to study sedimentary and structural geology in the Amazon Basin and pursue her Ph.D. in Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, she has her eye out for more unique research opportunities.

Banks is back on dry land for now — but could her ambitions take her back on the open water?

“Since I did not throw up and enjoyed life on the ship,” she said, “I discovered that I would love to potentially do a research project on a research vessel.”

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Response to Black Lives Matter Protests by the Department of Geological Sciences at UF


In the past few weeks, we have witnessed another painful chapter in the long history of systemic racism and violence that has plagued our country since its birth. The senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others before them is a stark and horrifying reminder of the reality that Americans of color, and especially Black Americans, face in their daily lives. We share in the broken-heartedness and outrage that our community and country are experiencing.


The Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Florida affirms that we stand with all those in our department community, at UF, in Gainesville, in the state of Florida, throughout the United States and the world who continue to be tormented by the scourge of racism and injustice. We affirm our support for non-violent protests in our community. We affirm that black lives matter. We affirm that your stories, experiences, and emotions are real, and that they matter. We affirm that white privilege is real and that we live in an inequitable society, and that these facts must be confronted and faced head on. We affirm that we, as educators, scientists, and role models in the privileged halls of academia must use our positions to do more to combat the effects of systemic racism that pervade our institutions. We affirm that we as geoscientists, in one of the least diverse fields in STEM, must fundamentally change how we approach solutions to the lack of diversity in Earth and Planetary Sciences and the damage that it causes. And we affirm that at this moment in time, we must listen. We must listen to the voices of our friends, colleagues, and community members who have for too long been denied a seat at the table, who have been screaming into the void about the oppression that they have suffered, and how our actions or lack of actions perpetuate that suffering. We as educators must do the hard work to examine our own biases and actively fight racism. A good place to start is the Paleontological Society of America’s list of resources that explore racism, bias, and allyship in academia.


At the University of Florida, our motto is Civium in Moribus rei Publicae Salus, meaning The Welfare of the State Depends on the Morals of its Citizens. This statement calls all of us at UF to action in no uncertain terms. The Department of Geological Sciences is not only committed to supporting our students, staff, and faculty through this difficult time, but also to using our voices as geoscientists to educate others about the connections between climate change and social justice, and how they can be addressed. We support and endorse the statements by UF President Ken Fuchs and CLAS Dean David Richardson, and the personal testimony from UF Dean of the College of Arts Onye Ozuzu, and we recognize that affirmations such as those above are meaningless unless they are followed by real action. Diversity in all its forms provides strength, and only with that strength will we be able to tackle the many challenges that lie ahead.


For UF Students in Need of Support

UF Counseling and Wellness Center

(352) 392-1575


For Faculty, Staff, and Their Families in Need of Support

UF Employee Assistance Program

(833) 306-0103


Alachua County Crisis Center

(352) 264-6789



In Solidarity,

The Faculty of the Department of Geological Sciences

University of Florida

There’s more to the Moon than meets the eye — much more, as it turns out.

“Humans only ever see one side of the Moon,” said Stephen Elardo, an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and NASA Early Career Fellow. He means that literally. The side that always faces toward Earth, known as the nearside, hides an essential fact about the Moon.

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Click here to read the recently published research