My name is Katy, and I’m a first year (well, almost done with that first year…how time flies) Ph.D student in the Soils & Biogeochemistry Graduate Group at UC Davis. That sounds super fancy and intense, and perhaps it is, but I like to think of myself as a nature lover/adventurer who happens to do a lot of chemistry.

Woman in baseball cap kneeling in desert. She is holding a syringe connected to a glass jar full of soil, doing some kind of science.

I stumbled into the crazy world of biogeochemistry by accident. When I was studying biochemistry at Villanova University with misguided intentions of going into medicine, I started working in Melanie Vile’s peatland ecology lab. And, oh, what a magical place to work as an eager college freshman who just wanted to do something that mattered. Medical aspirations were tossed aside almost immediately, and instead I spent four years studying how tar sands mining in Alberta, Canada affected the nearby peatland ecosystems. Peatlands are gorgeous and important ecosystems that store a massive amount of carbon, and their destruction will have drastic consequences for global climate change. What I loved most of all about my job was realizing that the ground below my feet was not an inert pile of dirt, but a living, breathing, complex ecosystem powered by intricate chemistry and feedbacks.

Woman standing in a wetland, grinning and holding out a handful of peat moss

The happiest girl in the world, holding a piece of the living world underneath our feet.

I’ve come a long way from the peatlands of Alberta to study the deserts of California (among other ecosystems), but my fascination with the living world below our feet remains the same. I hope that as I write more, you, too, will find the world below us to be beautiful and worth conserving.