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Geologist Tom Chacko awarded 2020 University of Alberta Distinguished Professor

Tom Chacko was recently awarded the 2020 University of Alberta Distinguished Professor, which is awarded to professors who have achieved distinction in teaching, research, and service to the university.

Tom Chacko, whose research on the Earth’s continental crust aims to better understand the planet’s early formation, has been awarded a high honour from the university. 

Chacko, a professor and associate chair of the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta since 1990, has been named one of the university’s highest honours: the 2020 University of Alberta Distinguished Professor. This award recognizes professors who have achieved distinction in the three areas of academia: teaching, research, and service to the university, and awards them with a yearly $20,000 research stipend for the next three years.

Chacko’s primary research is in understanding the formation of the Earth’s continental crust, the rocks that makeup continents, and how they formed early in the planet’s history. 

“The Earth is somewhat unique, it has this particular crust the other planets in our solar system don’t, which relates to various things, including how our climate is regulated,” Chacko said. 

“I hope that through my research, people get a better understanding of our natural world, how our planet came to be the way it is, and how it became suitable for life,” Chacko said.  “I think people are interested in origins and how things work.”

Chacko’s interest in geology was sparked in the fourth grade, when he was growing up in New Jersey. 

“Most people who eventually become geologists get interested when they come to university… and it really captures their imagination, but for me it was different,” Chacko said. 

“I grew up in New Jersey, and [in school] there was a rocks and minerals unit,” Chacko said. “I started going into my backyard into the woods near my house and collecting stuff, and I found minerals beautiful. I was interested from then on. Whenever my parents’ friends would ask me, what do you want to be when you grow up, I used to always say I want to be a geologist.”

When reflecting on this honour, Chacko said he isn’t 100 per cent sure why he was awarded, but acknowledged he has worked to emphasize the three components of academia the award focuses on.

“To be honest, I’m not really sure [why I was awarded],” Chacko said. “I’ve done my best as a faculty member to try to serve in the three main areas that academics are supposed to emphasize: teaching both at the undergrad and graduate level, research, and service to the department or to the university,” 

“It has really been a privilege to be here at the U of A and to work with the great students that I’ve been fortunate to have, as well as some great colleagues in our department.”

For students interested in geology, Chacko described it as a great career for those interested in the outdoor aspects of science.

“I’ve found it to be a great career, particularly if you have some interest in science, but also if the idea of being confined all the time to a laboratory or stuck in front of the computer doesn’t really appeal to you,” Chacko explained. “We certainly do both of those in geology… but there’s also a major field component to geology. As geologists say, it’s the only job where they will pay you for walking around on mountains.”

Areeha Mahal

Areeha Mahal is The Gateway’s 2020-21 Deputy News Editor and a first-year Biological Sciences student. When she’s not learning the Krebs cycle for the millionth time, Areeha enjoys stargazing, baking pies, and stalking Chris Hadfield on Twitter.

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