Note From The Chair

Saturday, Nov 28, 2020
To all of our friends and colleagues, from GEO at home:

Bess Ward, William J. Sinclair Professor of Geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. Chair, Department of Geosciences.

Bess Ward, William J. Sinclair Professor of Geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. Chair, Department of Geosciences.

I last wrote at the end of the Spring semester, when the students had vacated the campus and had completed the semester remotely.  Summer began with everybody working at home.  The University resumed research in early July, after every lab Principal Investigator provided a detailed plan for safe working in each lab space. So with PPE and social distancing, the research labs are functioning throughout the building.  We all became accustomed to careful scheduling and planning our activities in the building and are very pleased that the research endeavor has continued apace through the summer and fall.  For the theorists, computational research has continued apace, but we all miss the benefits of those casual interactions and serendipitous meetings that lead to ideas and insights.

We are now approaching the end of fall semester, and what a strange semester it has been.  With very few students on campus this semester, Guyot Hall remained quiet but not entirely empty.  We even had a few undergraduates doing senior thesis research in the labs!  With nearly normal enrollments in all our classes, the faculty, TAs and teaching staff displayed great creativity and did a lot of hard work to deliver the courses.  It was a bit strange lecturing and working with students in time zones around the world, but we are all Zoom experts now.  Even most of the students in the Princeton time zone were not actually in Princeton, having sequestered themselves in pods elsewhere. We are all looking forward to in person teaching again, even though that is unlikely to happen soon.

The increase in COVID cases all around the country, including New Jersey, means that the future remains very uncertain.  With the University’s announcement this week that its very own testing facility has been certified and will be up to speed to handle increased campus population density next semester, we remain optimistic.  The students have been invited back to campus for the spring semester, but it remains to be seen how many students will actually return.  Most classes will still be conducted virtually, and that probably means that some of our lab and field classes will not be offered until next year.

All of these teaching and research efforts continue to function with the outstanding and dedicated efforts of our GEO staff, and larger than usual group of hardworking Graduate Teaching Assistants, who have all become expert at teleworking and handling Zoom (and other online platforms).  We miss seeing each other, but appreciate their support all the more.

On the bright side, we are still planning for the future.  Planning for the new building continued on schedule and all of the GEO faculty worked with the architects to design their new office and research spaces.  The detailed design phase of the project has been completed and construction is scheduled to begin in early 2022.

As we look forward to the holiday season and beyond, we will maintain our vigilance in learning and working in a safe and healthy manner, in order to maintain support for all members of our community.  2020 will be a year to remember!