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Steven Petsch, assistant professor of geosciences at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, will talk on “Carbon Cycling, Black Shales, and 600 Million Years of Breathable Air” noon today in Gagnon Lecture Hall (room 100), Hugel Science Center.

Lunch is free for students and costs $3 for faculty and staff. The event is sponsored by the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Seminar.

Petsch’s work has shown that microorganisms in Kentucky’s New Albany Shale are eating kerogen, which is similar in composition to many common plastics like polyethylene. The solid, waxy, organic substance forms when pressure and heat from the Earth act on the remains of plants and animals. The discovery confirms that life can thrive in seemingly inhospitable environments and suggests that microorganisms may play a more active role in the Earth’s carbon cycle than previously recognized.

Petsch will be a keynote speaker at the International Conference on
Mechanisms and Regulation of Organic Matter Stabilisation in Soils, scheduled for Oct. 6-8 in Munich, Germany. He will talk on “Geochemical and Microbiological Investigations into Degradation of Organic Matter in Black Shales.”

In November, Petsch participated in a symposium, Geomicrobiology: Microbiology and Geology at the Interface, organized by University of Connecticut.

He earned a Ph.D. at Yale and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution before joining the UMass faculty last fall.

Founded in 1886, Sigma Xi is the international honor society for scientific and engineering research.

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