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Graduate Student Profile
Chiara Borrelli
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Chiara Borrelli

Hometown: Foligno, Perugia, Italy
Prior Study: Università Politecnica delle Marche, Marine Biology
Degree(s) Sought: Ph.D. Geology
Department: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Faculty Advisor: Miriam E. Katz
Expected year of graduation: 2014

Chiara’s research focuses on constructing past ocean pH and understanding the biomineralization (shell construction) process in marine microfossils. She is a member of the Geological Society of America (GSA) and American Geophysical Union (AGU) and recipient of several grants, including the GSA Research Grant, Garry Jones and Brian O'Neill Memorial Grant for NAMS Student Research, and the IAGC-Elsevier Student Research Grant.

Describe your graduate research and its purpose/applications.

For the past two years, I have studied a group of marine microfossils, called foraminifera, in order to reconstruct the ocean circulation in the North Atlantic and in the North Pacific from the middle Eocene to the early Oligocene (49-32 Ma). Currently, I am working on a project that I presented during my Comprehensive Exam. The goal of this project is the calibration of a proxy that can be used to reconstruct past ocean pH. In order to do that, I am setting up some culturing experiments with living foraminifera, under different temperature and pH conditions. With these experiments, I want to test if the incorporation of some trace elements (e.g., B and U) into their calcium carbonate shells is dependent by pH, temperature and water chemistry. At the same time, I am growing synthetic calcite in the laboratory under the same temperature and pH conditions of the foraminiferal culturing experiments. In this way, I might be able to quantify the offset of trace element incorporation between biological calcite (foraminiferal shell) and inorganic calcite (synthetic calcite crystals), possibly gaining some insights in the foraminiferal biomineralization (shell construction) process.

What are your hobbies/interests/special talents?

My favorite thing to do is spending time with people that I love (e.g., I skype a lot with my family and friends in Italy). Other than that, I really like reading books, cooking and watching movies. In addition, I have a scuba diving license so, when I come back home, I like to organize trips to the coast so that I can do some scuba diving with my friends.

Why did you choose to enroll at Rensselaer?

Actually, my enrollment at Rensselaer has been fortuitous. I first contacted a scientist who was working at Wadsworth Center (Albany) in order to spend some time in his laboratory. Because he did not have any funding for me, he suggested to me to contact Mimi Katz (now, my advisor). So, I emailed her and, after a few emails, she proposed to me to apply for the RPI PhD program. I filled in the application, took the GRE and TOEFL tests and..here I am!

What are some benefits of being part of the Graduate Community at Rensselaer?

At Rensselaer, there is an international Graduate Community. I really like that. For example, in my department, half of the Graduate Students come from another country. During the semester, there are several occasions to have a break together and these occasions represent an amazing learning-tool about different cultures around the world.

What would you tell a prospective student about choosing Rensselaer?

Rensselaer is a great place to develop you own idea. There are a lot of facilities that you can use and faculty are great!

List Information about your background and accomplishments in College and Work Experience:  (Please list in order of importance and provide a brief description of any responsibilities and/or leadership roles.)

I published my Master Thesis results as an article in a peer-review journal (Biogeosciences). In addition, during my undergraduate and graduate studies in Italy, I published 7 abstracts about my researches, and I attended one international and two national meetings.

What are your plans following graduation?

After my graduation, I would like to continue my career as a scientist. Because of that, I am starting to look for post-doc positions.

Awards/Fellowships:

April 2013 – IAGC-Elsevier Student Research Grant.
April 2012 – GSA Research Grant
March 2012 - Garry Jones and Brian O'Neill Memorial Grant for NAMS Student Research
June 2011- Geobiology International Summer Course Scholarship
July 2010- Cushman Foundation Student Travel Award for Forams 2010
May 2013 – Cushman Foundation Loeblich and Tappan Student Research Award
April 2013 - SEPM Foundation Award


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