Lara Wagner


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“I figured before I committed to doing something I found uninspiring for the rest of my life, I should see if I could find a field I would feel passionate about. I happened to be living in Tucson, and the University of Arizona allowed you to enroll in classes as a non-degree graduate student. Since I didn’t have to worry about the grades, I signed up for graduate-level coursework studying Earth science, hoping to get a better idea of what a career in that field would be like. A high-level graduate seminar on the mantle piqued my interest, so I called the professor and explained that I had no background at all in Earth sciences but wanted to sit in on his seminar. He suggested that I start with Physics of the Earth and Introduction to Seismology given my strong math background. I followed his advice, and it was love at first sight.

Not long after that, I applied to graduate school and was accepted. The University of Arizona’s program was about to start seismology field work in South America, and the research sounded really interesting. I also knew and liked the people in the department, so I stayed in Arizona; five years later, I had my Ph.D.

What I love about field work is that geology doesn't care where there are roads or where there are accommodations, so you end up in some pretty off-the-beaten-path places. I like that type of travel and adventure, which often requires you to ‘MacGyver’ creative solutions and make do with what you have. I find it an exciting and fun challenge.”

Wagner is a staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. She uses seismic tomography, a method of using seismic waves to "x-ray" below the surface, to analyze and interpret Earth’s structures.

Wagner co-organized the 2016 EarthScope Synthesis Workshop on developing a new community model for the 4-D evolution of North America as well as the 2017 Workshop on the evolution of the Southern Appalachian Lithosphere.



— by Sara Tewksbury

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