Ellen Lamont: Geologist

Ellen Lamont is a geologist from Eugene, Oregon. Her work focuses on how mountains grow and evolve and what forces cause them to deform.

What do you do?

Geologists are scientists who investigate Earth's history to try to understand how past conditions influence modern geology and the future. I am a structural geologist. I study the processes that alter the landscape around us. Specifically, my work focuses on how mountains grow and evolve and what forces cause them to deform. My work takes me everywhere from my own back yard (i.e. the Cascades) to places on the other side of the world (i.e. the Himalayas).

Why is your work important?

Many mountain ranges around the world are actively growing today. The forces that drive mountain development are the same forces that drive natural hazards such as earthquakes, faulting, tsunamis, and volcanism. By researching how, when, and why mountains deform, better hazard maps can be developed and policies implemented to prepare and protect the millions of people who live in communities at risk.

What's the coolest thing you've done as a scientist?

When I was a sophomore undergraduate student, I asked one of my geology professors if I could become involved in scientific research. He agreed to mentor me and within 6 months, I had the opportunity to live in Taiwan for an entire summer to do geology. Taiwan is really one of the hidden gems of the world. While I was there, I took basic Chinese language classes, hiked to the top of the island's tallest peak (Yushan), and immersed myself in the culture all while conducting field research. It was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my life and set the trajectory for my career.

What's your favorite STEM fact?

The deepest location in the world is the Marianas trench in the western Pacific Ocean. The base of the trench is ~6.8 miles (11 kilometers) below sea-level. This means that if Mt. Everest (the world's tallest mountain at 8848 meters) were placed in the bottom of the trench, it would still be 2 kilometers below sea level!

What do you wish others realized about geology?

There are a few misconceptions about the field of geology that I would like to address. First, geologists do not only study rocks. Geology is a truly multidisciplinary field that literally incorporates every other field of study. Second, geology is not an old boys club. While women are still not the majority, the number of female geologists is quite high compared to many STEM fields. Third, you do not have to be "outdoorsy" to be a geologist. There are a number of geologists who work in chemistry labs, develop technology and computer programs, or focus on science communication and education. You only have to be curious about the outdoors to be successful as a geologist. Oh, and there are many opportunities for travel if that is your thing!

Thanks for your contributions to science! If you’d like to nominate a STEM friend (or yourself), fill out the AweSTEM people form. You’ll also receive jewelry from Circuit Breaker Labs.