Episode 79: Developing biogeophysics and the search for life with Estella Atekwana

In this episode, host Andrew Geary speaks with biogeophysics pioneer Estella Atekwana. Their conversation highlights Estella’s upcoming virtual course called “Biogeophysics: Exploring Earth’s subsurface biosphere using geophysical approaches.” Estella explains how geophysical tools helped develop biogeophysics, why microorganisms play such a key role on the Earth, how her research applies to the search for life on other planets and why flexibility is the key to a successful career.

Read the abstract and register for the Virtual Course!

Two dates to choose:

  • Session 1, Thursday, 30 April 2020, 11:00 AM–12:00 PM (Eastern Daylight Time)
  • Session 2, Monday, 21 September 2020, 4:00–5:00 PM (Eastern Daylight Time)


Estella A. Atekwana received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Howard University, Washington DC, and a Ph.D. from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is currently the Dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of Delaware.

Her research uses geophysical methodologies to investigate geologic processes spanning the near to deep subsurface and from the micron to the lithospheric scale. She is internationally recognized for her pioneering and interdisciplinary work on biogeophysics which has won numerous best paper awards at international conferences. Her biogeophysics research focuses on investigating the interaction between microorganisms and subsurface geologic media and the application of this knowledge to bioremediation optimization, oil exploration, and as a proxy for biogeochemical processes. Her tectonophysics studies have included integrated geophysical imaging of lithospheric and upper mantle structures to understand the geodynamic processes of continental rift initiation and how preexisting Precambrian structures modulate strain localization leading to faulting and generation of earthquakes. Atekwana has conducted international field-based research in several countries including Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Malawi, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, and Zambia with her students.

Atekwana has been the lead principal investigator of many research projects funded by federal agencies and private companies. She has received several awards including the 2019 Association for Women Geoscientists Outstanding Educator and the 2016 Society of Exploration Geophysicists Outstanding Educator award. She was inducted an Honorary Member of Phi Beta Delta, the Honor Society for International Scholars, and the International Golden Key Honor Society. She has been convener of several workshops and special sessions and an invited speaker at international conferences and research institutions.

Atekwana is a member of several professional organizations including the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, Geochemical Society, European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, and National Association of Black Geoscientists. She has held leadership positions on several of these organizations.

Atekwana is passionate about her students and early-career faculty and is a mentor for women and minorities in the sciences. She has been an advisor of more than 40 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.


Original music by Zach Bridges.

This episode was hosted, edited, and produced by Andrew Geary. Thank you to the SEG podcast team: Jennifer Crockett, Ally McGinnis, and Mick Swiney.

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