Grad Student Sean Zigah Details Influence of Nano-Materials on Research

Upon completing his bachelor’s in Geosciences from Virginia Tech last year, Sean Zigah knew that the best step for his career would be the GSU Geosciences Department. “I learned about the microcalorimetry work that Dr. Nadine Kabengi has been conducting when one of her graduate students met with my undergraduate research group at Virginia Tech,” he says. “The high level of research being conducted in this department stood out to me and propelled GSU to the top institution on my list of potential graduate programs.”

As a GSU Geosciences master’s student in geology, Sean now works with Dr. Kabengi to examine the kinetics and energetics involved with surface reactions related to the mineral Ferrihydrite, which is found mostly in soils and aquatic environments. The partially crystalline nanomineral is a key player in several geochemical processes such as availability and mobility of contaminants. “Ferrihydrite has unique properties as a semi-crystalline material, such as a high specific surface area, and this gives it a large role in the adsorption of various oxyanions found in environmental conditions,” Sean says. “It bonds with nasty stuff like arsenates and chromates, which are toxic for people.”

Nano-materials in general fascinate Sean, who has already built an impressive body of work around them. “I have presented a poster showcasing my undergraduate research on the optical surface properties of iridescent hematite at the 2017 Geological Society of America (GSA) conference in Seattle and the 2017 National Association of Black Geoscientists Conference in Atlanta,” he says. He recently was the recipient of the Professional Pathways GSA award, which will take him to the 2018 GSA conference in Indianapolis. “This program serves as a professional development workshop for students to build skills that enhance their employability.”

Sean’s enthusiasm for the conference embraces both the knowledge he’ll gain and the people he’ll meet — two essential ingredients in building a career: “I was really excited about the opportunity to participate in this workshop as well as attend my third consecutive GSA conference. It will give me a chance to continue building upon the professional and academic network I have developed over the past few years.”