Temple Times Online Edition
    JANUARY 19, 2006
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Toran named fellow by the Geological Society of America


Photo courtesy Laura Toran

Geology associate professor Laura Toran, recently named a Geological Society of America fellow, collects a sample from inside a 1700s-era springhouse. The gray barrel behind her is a stormwater sampler that will collect samples during rainfall events.

Laura Toran, associate professor and the Weeks Chair in Environmental Geology, has been named a fellow by the Geological Society of America “for new insights into the flow of groundwater in heterogeneous, fractured aquifers and the chemical evolution of groundwater.”

The mission of the GSA is to advance the geosciences, to enhance the professional growth of its 17,000 members, and to promote the geosciences in the service of humanity. It provides geoscientists from all sectors — academic, government and industry — with a vehicle for expressing core professional values of science, stewardship and service. A member of the GSA is elected to fellowship in recognition of significant contributions to the science of geology.

“It is really exciting to be named a fellow of GSA,” Toran said. “You work in your lab, you work in the field, and you wonder if it’s making a difference. Being elected a fellow is sort of a message that your work is making a difference.”

Toran, who joined Temple’s geology faculty in 1997 from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is a groundwater modeler with experience in hazardous waste investigations. Her current research interests include modeling the influence of fracture patterns on plume migration and stormwater sampling in karst and urban streams.

“Before I came to Temple, I tried to emphasize modeling a little more,” Toran said. “The types of problems that I tried to look at were ones that required interdisciplinary approaches.

“That is one of the things I think the GSA was acknowledging in my selection as a fellow; that I tended to look at really challenging modeling problems,” she added. “For instance, I did a lot of modeling where I used both flow and geochemistry, and those tend to be considered two different areas of expertise.”

During her time at Temple, Toran has switched directions and begun doing more field research.

“First, it was a real interest of mine and I wanted to start collecting my own unusual data sets, instead of relying on the data sets of others,” she said, “and second, I found that field work appealed to the students quite a bit.”

Toran said she has worked hard to find ways to involve more students into her research projects, especially undergraduates.

“Because of the involvement of undergraduates in my research projects, I find myself breaking the projects down into smaller pieces that the undergrads can accomplish in a short period of time,” she said. “It also helps me in that I tackle some projects that I might not have otherwise. Then, the master’s students’ work ties it all nicely back together.”

Toran earned her bachelor’s degree from Macalester College (1980) in St. Paul, Minn., and her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (1986), both in geology. Between degrees, she served as a research associate at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources Division for two years.

“My interest in the environmental sciences was public-spirited,” she explained. “I wanted to do something that would help out — I didn’t just want to get a job; I wanted to get a job that would contribute to this being a better place for people to live.

“I really liked science, so I figured I should do something that would help protect the earth,” she said. “I took geology and several other sciences, but I just found the people in geology were so great to work with, and there was a subset of them doing environmental science. So when it came time to choose a specialty, it became geology.”

A registered professional geologist in the state of Pennsylvania, Toran also is a director of the Consortium of Universities for Advancement of Hydrologic Research Inc.; a member of the technical program committee for the GSA; and a member of the editorial boards for Ground Water and Hydrogeology Journal.

As a member of GSA’s technical program committee, Toran currently is organizing 26 sessions for the society’s annual national meeting, which will be held in Philadelphia this October.

“The GSA is really a terrific society because it is where all the fields of geology come together,” said Toran, who is active in the hydrogeology division, one of the GSA’s largest. “It’s neat to get together with all the other geologists once or twice a year at the regional and national meetings, and it is important to be a part of making that happen.”

- By Preston M. Moretz