Undergraduate Research

Kathleen O'Melia ’23

OUR Featured Researcher: Kathleen O'Melia ’23

Kat O'Melia
Photo Credit: Jacob Strauss

Kathleen O'Melia (she/they) is majoring in Geology. She conducts research under the guidance of her research mentor Professor Amanda Schmidt. Her research is titled "Late-Holocene Sedimentation in Cone Pond, NH".

Please describe your research project: 

Lake core sediments can offer an exciting glimpse into the climate and events of the past. Analyzing sediment cores is a unique tool that provides the opportunity to look at the sedimentary record in a way that naturally preserves the timeline in which it formed. By describing sediment from cores and measuring the properties of sediments in cores, a record of the past can be reproduced. This record of climate and ecosystem changes may provide vital information and tools that we need to better understand the effect of the major climate and ecosystem changes that we are experiencing presently, predominantly due to anthropogenic activities. These informational tools can be applied by conservationists, systems ecologists, geologists and policy makers to pilot ideas, and create and implement plans to remediate the immediate effects that these shifts in climate and ecosystem structure are having on living communities.

My research is specifically focused on examining how minute changes in paleoclimate indicated in Cone Pond cores reflect changes in climate and what effect changes in climate have on sediment loading. I am analyzing sediment cores to allow us to create a past land use chronology and assessing what we can learn about past land use in the Cone Pond watershed from soil cores taken from the lake.

What does the process of doing your research look like? 

Cores need to be split and subsampled in 1 centimeter sections. The sections are analyzed using a variety of tools, including gamma spectrometry, carbon dating of macrofossils, magnetic susceptibility, grain size analysis, x-ray fluorescence, and loss on ignition. The information is used to date sections of the core and to construct land use chronology.

In what ways have you showcased your research thus far? 

I will present a poster at the Geological Society  of America Connection Conference in Denver, Colorado October 10.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college? 

I have always been interested in research, especially field research. I knew when I picked Oberlin  I was looking forward to the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research. I first reached out to Dr. Schmidt during the SOAR program when she was representing the department during an undergraduate research presentation. She enthusiastically welcomed me to begin my research journey at Oberlin at her lab during the sophomore semester off in the Spring of 2020.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher? 

Dr. Schmidt has facilitated my working in three labs outside of Oberlin to develop skills in lab techniques crucial to the study of paleoecology and geomorphology. She introduced me to the collaborators on my project who are working in positions in other universities and government. She provided me with the opportunity to travel to Plymouth State University to do core analysis, continue that analysis in her lab over the summer and present the on-going research at the Geological Society of America. In addition, Dr. Schmidt has facilitated my connection with researchers to run further analysis over Winter Term at the University of Toledo and Wooster College.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?    

Research in Dr. Hubbard’s lab sparked an interest in conservation paleoecology that I intend to pursue in my future studies. The project I am currently working on  with Dr. Schmidt has allowed me to deeply expand my knowledge of lab techniques and broaden my connections in the field of geosciences.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field? 

Don’t be intimidated by approaching a professor in person or over email. Even if they don’t currently have space in their lab for another student, they will interested in talking about their research and you will learn more about what the opportunities are. It is beneficial to express interest early. Surround yourself with peers who have similar research interests with whom you can discuss topics you are interested in. This will make you a better researcher both in and out of the lab.