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Volcanologist Extraordinaire

Kendra LynnEver since she was eight years old, Kendra J. Lynn knew she wanted to become a geologist. Lynn has dedicated her career to understanding complex geologic processes that occur beneath the Earth’s crust. Her research is involved with multiple geographic areas, from volcanoes to the upper mantle, and she applies her expertise as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Delaware.


Born and raised in Minnesota, Lynn began to take an interest with volcanoes and geology when she saw a beautiful, larger-than-life poster depicting an archetypal model of an erupting volcano in her elementary school library. She said that this poster inspired her to become a geologist and study volcanoes.


Lynn obtained her B.S. in Geology at Winona St. University and jumped into graduate school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she got her M.S. and Ph.D. in Geology and Geophysics.


While her five years of graduate school were stressful, she said that the experience allowed her to find a job at UD.


“I think when you come out of the other side, you can be proud of it,” Lynn said, “I learned a lot about time management, saying ‘no’ to things. I learned a lot about taking care of myself and not completely falling apart when the stress is high.”


Now, Lynn works with Jessica Warren, associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment. 


Warren’s research team focuses on the Earth’s upper mantle and conducts research on the continents and at mid-ocean ridges, areas on the ocean floor where tectonic plates spread apart and magma rises from the mantle. Lynn said she and other researchers must take research vessels out on month long journeys to collect rock samples from these remote areas.


The expertise Lynn brings to Warren’s research group is primarily in diffusion kinetics, which is the mathematical modeling of how the chemistry of rocks changes over time. Her skillset and background in geology are vital for understanding tectonic processes occurring beneath the planet’s surface.


Her work involves the use of high-performance computing and geochemistry, which help Lynn to better understand the planet’s geological timeline and to learn what sorts of tectonic events have occurred in the past.


In a typical day, Lynn performs geochemical analyses on rock samples from the upper mantle and uses high-performance computing to better understand what the geochemistry records about geologic processes on Earth.


“We all do geochemistry, so we try to measure the mineral contents of rocks and what kind of elements are present,” Lynn said. “We can look at the oxidation state of iron in the rock, for example. That tells us a lot about the history of the rocks, both in the upper mantle and their life on the surface. We do a lot of chemical analyses to think about those processes.”


Lynn said she is passionate about spreading scientific knowledge to the general public and has devoted much free time to educating others. She has been featured in a PBS special on volcanoes, she volunteers her free time to give guest lectures to undergraduate students at UD, and she conducts lab technique workshops with graduate students.


Lynn guest-lectures for the Geology Department for the Mineralogy and Petrology courses that are required for all majors. She also gives workshops in fusion kinetics for graduate students in her lab group.


On top of all this, Lynn also volunteers for a non-profit organization called Skype-A-Scientist, a free platform that enables scientists and K-12 educators to connect via video chat and have discussions with experts.


Lynn has video chatted with 10 different classes about volcanoes since signing up for Skype-A-Scientist and has more scheduled in the future. She said she appreciates these opportunities that give her a chance to educate people and make a difference in how people look at the world.


Lynn said that for students looking for unique field experiences in remote places scattered throughout the world, geology is the perfect career path. It combines many areas of study, from chemistry to cartography to physics, and it provides a wide range of practical skills. Even though there is a good bit of lab work involved, she says geology always has exciting research opportunities.


“I’ve been all over the world studying volcanoes,” Lynn said. “Every time, I find myself standing on a mountain peak and I just think to myself, ‘Wow this is my office today. I am getting paid to do this.’”


Article by Jon Hynson


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