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Dr. Tracy Quan

Boone Pickens School of Geology

Dr. Tracy Quan

Dr. Tracy Quan is an associate professor in the Boone Pickens School of Geology.


As a geochemist, my research interests lie at the intersection between chemistry and geology. I use chemical techniques, instruments, and proxies to answer geological questions. The majority of my research seeks to understand more about environmental conditions in past oceans, particularly what oxygen levels were like in ocean waters throughout Earth’s geologic history. Paleoenvironmental water column conditions were often very dynamic and linked to significant climatic or geologic events. Changes in water column oxygen conditions through time result in differences in the types of organisms and how they utilize nitrogen, which results in distinct nitrogen isotope fractionation patterns that are preserved in the sediment deposits. Since past oxygen levels can’t be measured directly, I use nitrogen isotope values measured from sediment samples to provide a look into past water column conditions. Using this technique, my lab has characterized changes in water column oxygen levels through glacial/interglacial cycles, mass extinctions, oceanic anoxic events, and the deposition of organic-rich layers and then tied these changes to larger climatic and tectonic events. Recently, I’ve also started looking at the types of organic compounds in produced water using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) as a way to evaluate rock-water-hydrocarbon interactions and evaluate remediation requirements. This project is somewhat similar to the open-ocean organic carbon cycling research I did as a graduate student, so it’s been fun to go back to that area of work.


Another aspect of my work at OSU is to be an advocate for geosciences and STEM through both informal and formal educational and outreach programs that integrate hands-on activities and real-world data. Having been introduced to geology research and careers through a summer experience program in high school, I want to give others similar opportunities, particularly people who are from underrepresented or under-resourced groups. I am the lead PI on a recently funded NSF grant to develop the Water Research, Assessment, and Networking Ecosystem (WRANE) program for informal geoscience instruction on water resources. This program introduces high school and community college students and teachers to water-related geoscience topics via virtual lectures, out-of-school-time learning ecosystems, career networking, and community science research projects. Our first group of WRANE teachers started their student groups this Fall, and they are currently planning research projects and collecting samples. The idea for the WRANE program grew out of the Halliburton-sponsored geoscience teacher workshop I assist with, which provides teachers with geoscience knowledge and educational activities that they can bring back to their classrooms. I was an Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) Data Labs Development Fellow and created an educational activity for use in my Introduction to Oceanography course that utilizes real-world water column data collected by the OOI network. In addition to these geology-centered activities, I also contribute geoscience and geochemistry activities to other programs, such as Grandparents University, the Women in Science conference, and other geology camps. As climate change, water use issues, and environmental concerns become more important, I think basic geoscience literacy is critical and hope to familiarize more people with the breadth of fields and jobs that fall under the geoscience umbrella.

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