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Kate Maher receives James B. Macelwane Medal

Each year, the American Geophysical Union recognizes early career scientists whose work ensures a sustainable future.

By
Miles Traer
Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences
December 17, 2015
Matthew Rothe
Kate Maher holding containers of soil

The American Geophysical Union (AGU), the largest academic association of Earth scientists in the world, awarded Kate Maher with the James B. Macelwane Medal in recognition of her work in the field of environmental geochemistry.

Maher, an associate professor at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, joined four other Macelwane Medal winners to accept the award during a ceremony at AGU’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday.

“The award is a special honor in so many ways it is honestly hard to put it into words,” Maher said.  “What is most important to me is the knowledge that the research I have been a part of is having an impact and, as a consequence, we are helping to expand our knowledge of the planet.”

Maher’s research focuses on the chemical reactions between fluids and minerals that create the environments that are unique to Earth’s surface, and how these reactions regulate humanity’s ability to utilize invaluable resources, such as soil and water.

“Since her arrival at Stanford, Kate has established herself as a leading figure in the field of low temperature geochemistry,” said Jonathan Payne, Chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at Stanford.  “Her work provides the best quantitative model for how chemical weathering has helped regulate Earth’s climate over time and maintained a habitable planet for the past four billion years.”

Sustainability continues to remain high atop Maher’s research agenda.  Her current research focuses on the cycling of water and elements through Earth’s critical zone, a region of Earth’s surface from the atmosphere to bedrock where complex interactions involving rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms occur.

“We grow our food and store our ‘leftovers’ in the critical zone.  The vitality of Earth’s natural and engineered critical zones is thus central to ensuring a sustainable future,” Maher said.  “Our current work is focused increasingly on engineered critical zones, with the goal of understanding how they function so we can better manage them in the future.”