The AGU meeting was the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists, with more than 24,000 scientists in attendance.
Her research seeks to calculate how much hydrogen is being produced deep in the seafloor via a chemical process called radiolysis. It is likely that microbes living in the sediment are feeding on the hydrogen, since there is little else for them to eat there.
“I’m trying to see if hydrogen can be used as an energy source for the microbes living in subseafloor sediment,” said Sauvage, a native of Brussels. “It’s an important food source in places in the ocean where there is very little organic matter in the sediment. If you have little organic matter and still see microbes living there, there must be another energy source for them to feed on.”
Sauvage describes her research as a combination of nuclear science, microbiology and oceanography. Her winning project is entitled “Boosting subsurface life: Is subseafloor sediment a natural catalyst for radiolytic hydrogen production?” Her research is funded in part by a Schlanger Ocean Drilling Fellowship, which she was awarded in 2014.
Sauvage, who spent two months aboard a Japanese research ship in 2012 when it drilled deeper into the seafloor than any other ship had before, uses the nuclear reactor at the URI Narragansett Bay Campus to conduct experiments for her research.
One of the benefits of presenting her research at such a large scientific meeting was the visibility she gained with potential future employers. She said she met many people from the radioactive waste disposal industry who were interested in her research. That is one of several career directions she is considering as she looks toward graduation in 2016.
Pictured above: URI doctoral student Justine Sauvage poses in front of her winning research poster. Photo courtesy of Frank Baker.