Joe RuffiniJoe Ruffini; Masters Student

Well hey there reader. My name is Joe Ruffini, I am a graduate student at UWM under Dr. Lindsay McHenry. I am a Pennsylvania born geologist, spurred by a significant connection with nature one day, and an inherent notion that a cubicle is not where humans should spend their days toiling. I was initially interested in Mineralogy because of its underlying role in all other aspects of geology and my fascination with formative mechanisms, or more frankly, why travertine over calcite? Upon arriving I undertook a project Dr. McHenry has been shaping for years, and am now branching into planetary geology, geochemistry, volcanology and am enjoying it immensely. I spent the summer in Idaho and discovered a whole new existence, then went straight to Iceland afterwards to discover a completely different and dreamlike realm. This program has been good to me.

My research with Dr. McHenry is entitled Hematite and Sulfate Mineral from Terrestrial Lava Tubes: Potential Mars Analogue. For this research we studied Craters of the Moon, Idaho, which is a large high iron basaltic lava field in the Snake River Plain. We collected samples from lava tubes and compare them to the samples found associated with high Iron basalts from Meridiani Planum on Mars. Because some of the same mineral assemblages occur at both sites, we study the terrestrial minerals meticulously and derive formative mechanisms for them, and then apply these to Mars as a possible genetic process for that particular area. We use X-ray diffraction and fluorescence, as well as Visible Near Infrared Spectrometry, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and major anion and cation analysis of water samples from the area. I spend my days blissfully grinding minerals and rocks into powders for mineralogical and geochemical analysis in search of persuasive evidence for our hypothesis.

Since at UWM I have received a Teaching Assistantship for two years, obtained a job with GeoCorps for the summer of 2010 from which I published a work on waterholes. I also was awarded two grants for my planetary analogue research, one from the Wisconsin Geological Society, and the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship. I will be presenting a talk at the national Geological Society of America meeting on November 1st concerning my thesis research.

  1. Hometown?
    My hometown is Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  2. Previous degrees (Degree and University)?
    Bacherlors of Science in Environmental Geology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania Geoscience Department
  3. Expected graduation date?
    Spring 2011
  4. What is your field of study and how would you describe it to a prospective graduate student?
    Mineralogy, Geochemistry, Planetary Geology, Volcanology. A synthesis of these used to explain terrestrial processes that create similar minerals as those seen on Mars, and then extrapolating those processes to Mars as a way of understanding Martian geology.
  5. What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your graduate degree?
    Familiarity of my advisor with Dr. Dyanna Czeck, interest in leaving PA, and funding.
  6. What's been your best experience so far?
    Dr. Hooyer’s geomorph canoe trip as one of my first Wisconsin experiences was fantastic. Field work in Idaho was great. And of course Iceland was surreal, although those are more than one experience.
  7. In graduate School, have you gotten the opportunity to travel as part of your education?
    Of course! All over Wisconsin (new to me), Minnesota, the UP of Michigan, Idaho, Iceland, Oregon, Washington, specifically Mt. St. Helens, Colorado and more to come!
  8. What trait or thing has allowed you to succeed in graduate school?
    A newfound commitment to Geology and research. As an undergraduate I was a bit lazy, but now that I am a funded graduate student there is a need to excel and prove I am worth the energy this department has put into my education.
  9. Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program?
    Try to be enthusiastic about your project and about teaching, because it’s a great opportunity that not everyone gets.
  10. What has been the hardest part about being a graduate student (Is there anything that you've had to "give up" as a graduate student)?
    Being away from my family, and my niece and brand new nephew (9/9/10!). Also, not having any mountains around, grow some mountains Wisconsin!
  11. What are your plans after you graduate?
    Probably leave Wisconsin and follow the jobs where they may lead. Hopefully environmental geology or economic geology, specifically mineral exploration.
  12. How would you describe the Department of Geosciences at UWM to a prospective student?
    Dedicated, enthusiastic, eclectic, accomplished, studying all over the world (almost), and studying all over the Geoscience spectrum (though we could use more mineralogists!)
  13. What has been your favorite activity while you’ve been in Graduate School in Milwaukee?
    Being a TA for Mineralogy, the students are Geology majors and the material is challenging and I learn a lot from them.
  14. What do you most enjoy about Milwaukee?
    Lake Michigan is just across the street, and there are nice establishments to eat and drink, also the bike lanes are much appreciated.

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