Highlighting Women in Geobiology at MIT: Dr. Jessica Whiteside

Posted on May 16, 2019
Story Caption: A field photograph of Dr. Whiteside taking core samples for paleomagnetic analysis (looking at ancient reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field) from the Late Triassic. This was for a study about the continental expression of long-term climate change and hydrological cycling that is the backdrop before the end-Triassic extinction and ascent of dinosaurs 201.5 million years ago.

Current Role: I am an associate professor of geochemistry at the University of Southampton, based in the National Oceanography Centre in Southern England. I specialize in molecular paleontology, that is, I use fossil chemical fingerprints as clues to ancient ecologies and environmental change.

Years in the Summons Lab: I was in the Summons lab in 2012, and return now and then for additional chemical explorations.

Favorite Memories: I have fond memories of a field excursion with Roger, Julio Sepulveda, and Laia Algeret (University of Zaragoza) to Zumaya, Spain. Here, we collected rock samples from the pink and white alternating layers that record the wobbles and wanders of the Earth’s axis in orbit around the time the asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary 66 million years ago. As a wine connoisseur, Roger insisted on a culinary sampling of Rioja and tapas afterwards.

I really appreciate my time in the Summons lab — for Roger’s appreciation of the diversity of lab members, ideas, concepts, and innovations!

Research Foci in the Summons Lab: I worked on chemical fossils from an island off western Canada that records the end-Triassic mass extinction 201.5 million years ago. We showed how CO2 spewing into the atmosphere from massive lava eruptions led to extinction through a cascading series of environmental feedbacks, including the first evidence of toxic hydrogen sulphide poisoning in the sunlit surface waters from an open ocean site. I also worked on generating records from other mass extinction events associated with major climate change and how these speak to the habitability of life on Earth.

Advice to Women Pursuing STEM: Be persistent, don’t be afraid to reach your highest potential, and immerse yourself with multiple mentors who think both like and unlike you!