This past December, University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Research Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Ellen Thomas received the prestigious Brady Medal, the Micropaleontological Society’s (TMS) highest award. Since its inception in 2007, the TMS has awarded the medal to the researcher whose work has most significantly contributed to the field of study. According to the TMS website, service to the scientific community is also a factor in determining the award’s recipient.
In particular, Thomas’ work focuses on using microfossils collected from the deep ocean to determine characteristics of the earth’s environment and track patterns across a number of periods in the planet’s history. Thomas does this by creating 3D printed models of microscopic organisms, enlarged to 10,000 times their original size, and studying them, as well as dissolving original samples in acid to study their chemical properties.
“On the same sample material, you can figure out things that changed in the environment as well as the microscopic organism that lived there,” said Thomas. “So we reconstruct the climate of the past, and we reconstruct the reaction of organisms in the Deep Ocean, which is the largest habitat on the earth to those changes in, for instance, climate, global warming, and things like that.”
Today, the study of climate change has become all the more relevant.
“When I started, this was societally irrelevant…but it was overtaken by real life, so a number of the time periods that we are studying in the past actually are more or less counterpart to future global warming, so we can, before we are very, very warm, actually look at similar time periods in the past,” Thomas said.
Though scientists nearly unanimously consider climate change to be true, they often face opposition from other societal groups seeking to call the facts into question.
“There’s no science [supporting claims that climate change is not occurring],” Thomas said. “That’s on the same line as those people who are arguing that there is no such thing as evolution.”
Though this is not the first time that Thomas has won a major award for her work, this medal holds particular sentimental value. The medal’s namesakes, brothers George Stewardson Brady and Henry Bowman Brady, are considered the founders of micropaleontology and pioneers in the study of the deep sea. Thomas often uses Henry Bowman Brady’s reference texts, as they include specific information on the organism she studies, called foraminifera.
“That’s why it was particularly nice to get a medal that was in his name,” Thomas said.