Anyone familiar with the animated kids’ movie Shrek knows that onions, parfaits and ogres all have layers. But speleothems – stalagmites, stalactites, and flow stones – have layers too and the ‘secret’ information contained within them is the focus of Ingrid Lindeman’s master’s research. The 23-year-old Master of Science (Research) student was recently awarded a prestigious William Georgetti Scholarship to assist her research quest.
“Most people wanting to study the weather look to the skies; I head for the bowels of the earth,” says Ingrid. “Stalagmites and stalactites do not just wow the tourists at Waitomo Caves, they chronicle past climates and help us predict and plan for the future.”
The Georgetti scholarship is aimed at students undertaking postgraduate study whose research is likely to benefit New Zealand. Only six were awarded this year and Ingrid was the sole recipient from the University of Waikato. While being “completely taken aback even to be shortlisted”, Ingrid says receiving the $21,000 scholarship means she’ll have more time to dedicate to her research.
School of Graduate Research Dean, Professor Kay Weaver says Ingrid has done extraordinarily well to secure the highly competitive scholarship. “Waikato is really proud of Ingrid – winning this scholarship is testament to the significance of the research that she is doing in New Zealand.”
The topic of Ingrid’s current research falls under the umbrella of geochemistry, as applied to Speleothem Science. As a relatively new area, Ingrid was attracted to the variety of avenues available for her to explore, particularly the possible applications to climate change research.
Speleothems hold information within their growth layers about past climate and environmental conditions. By unlocking this information it’s possible to compare the severity of weather patterns in the past, such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), to the severity of the same weather patterns in current times. This could help predict and plan the frequency and severity of major climatic events as the climate continues to respond to human activities.
Ingrid’s work is also part of the international project QUEST (QUantitative palaeoEnvironments from SpeleoThems), funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant for innovation and research. The collaboration involves universities, academics and students all over the world with the aim of developing new techniques for extracting quantitative information from speleothems.
“Being part of an international project provides opportunities to network with researchers from many different fields and countries, and helps open doors to other research collaborations,” Ingrid says.
As part of the QUEST project Ingrid spent two months working within the Speleothem Science Group at the Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany where she helped a master’s student with his project. Working with a state-of-the-art cave-analogue calcite precipitation experimental set-up (a box designed to control atmospheric and environmental conditions to mimic those found within actual caves) taught Ingrid valuable skills that will be applied to her own thesis.
After completing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in chemistry last year, Ingrid considers herself fortunate for the opportunities presented to her during her degree. In 2016, she was awarded a Callaghan Innovation Grant to undertake a project at Hill Laboratories, an analytical chemistry company based in the Waikato. During the work placement she got a taste for the research and development side of the industry while working on a project to detect honey adulteration - investigating the addition of cheap sugars added to the natural product.
A week spent at the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE) Winter School also remains a standout for Ingrid. She attended labs and workshops and met scientists from many different fields. Ingrid also visited Australia’s only nuclear reactor OPAL, located at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).
Right now she may be absorbed in her masters but Ingrid’s already thinking ahead to more study. Her long held dream is to undertake a PhD at Cambridge University. Wherever she ends up she’s determined to make a positive contribution to New Zealand through science and research.
When she’s not busy studying the keen scientist from Kirikiriroa indulges some quirky side line hobbies - she’s a member of Waikato’s Pokémon Go group, loves some art house cinema and progressive rock music, and has a penchant for baking cakes and decorating them in science themes. Turns out, Ingrid has layers too.