An Acquired Taste

By Allie Tessin, inorganic geochemist, Expedition 392

I’ve spent a lot of my time at sea donned in a white lab coat and goggles, analyzing the chemical composition of the rocks, sediments, and waters that we are collecting. I also spend a lot of time chatting to my colleagues excitedly about the new data that I have collected, waxing lyrically about how iron is changing or what the strange patterns in alkalinity might mean.

Anyone might assume I’ve always had a passion for chemistry, but this is very much not the case.

In grade school, I loved history and literature, subjects that offered the opportunity for storytelling. I struggled with math and failed to connect with most sciences. My only “C” in school was—you might by now have guessed—in chemistry!

But during college, I developed an interested in earth science. I become engrossed in telling the Earth’s stories. How had climate changed in the past? What was different about the oceans hundreds of millions of years ago? What can these (pre)history lessons teach us about how theEarth is changing now?

As I dug deeper into earth science, I found myself using chemistry more and more, until one day I found myself being called a “geochemist.” I had figured out how chemistry provided a toolkit to unlock the secrets of how the oceans work and change through time. And now, I help others to use this toolkit. Back home, I’m an assistant professor at Kent State University in northeastern Ohio.

Being a scientist doesn’t just mean balancing equations and mixing chemicals. Being a scientist provides a chance to make discoveries and weave stories. Each time a core comes on deck, and I take our samples to the chemistry lab, I’m given the opportunity to learn something new about these sediments.

For just one moment, before I run upstairs to tell the others what I’ve found out, I know a little something about the Earth that no one else knows.

Maybe, just maybe, my journey with chemistry will encourage you to take another look. To see the periodic table not as a list of facts and figures, but as a gateway to adventures under the sea and deep within the seafloor.

Maryalice Yakutchik
I am a longtime science writer/multimedia journalist working independently again after 14 years with Johns Hopkins where I specialized in global health, public health and the basic sciences. Prior to that, I freelanced for newspapers, magazines and websites; notably, the Discovery Channel ( where, as a globe-trotting expeditions correspondent, I covered everything from humpback whale genetics in Madagascar and body art in Morocco to wolf conservation in Italy, as well as research on rattlesnakes in Aruba and spectacled bears in Peru. Eons ago, after journalism school at Temple University (go Owls!), I spent 11 years as a reporter at the Reading Eagle, honing my craft as I wrote the daily mushroom report and descriptions of the Pet of the Week (all of whom got adopted, by the way).
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