Sara Biddle

3MT 2024 Finalist Sara Biddle

Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Natural + Applied Sciences

Thesis: Can Ancient Worms Help Predict the Future?

Introduce yourself:

I am a PhD candidate with the Ichnology Research Group (IRG) in the department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Geology from the University of Calgary in 2017. I pursued a Master’s degree with Dr. Murray Gingras in the IRG, and never looked back. Beyond research I love all things involving nature and animals, including riding my horse through grassy fields and spending time in the mountains looking at ‘big rocks’ with my corgi!

What are you researching and what do you hope comes out of your research?

Ichnology is a wonderful mix of geology-meets-paleontology. Instead of studying body fossils, like bones, we study trace fossils preserved in sediments, like footprints. Or in my case, ancient marine worm burrows!

Specifically, I am studying animal-sediment interactions from 100 million years ago, back when dinosaurs roamed and millions of years before the infamous asteroid. During this period our planet was experiencing a similar episode of extreme global warming, with the consequence of depleted oxygen within the ocean waters.

Just like us, worms need oxygen to survive – and they respond in measurable ways to varying amounts of it. I am looking at changes in worm burrows from the bottom of the ocean during this time to better understand how much oxygen was lost in ocean waters. I am hoping the results of my study can help to one day build a model of what our future oceans might look like.

How does presenting a Three Minute Thesis (3MT) help you to explain your research to the public?

Before preparing for the 3MT I struggled with succinctly explaining how worm burrows are significant in understand our planet’s history. I would receive a glazed-over look of regret from people who asked about my research as I stumbled over technical terms and tangents to try to explain what I do.

Being tasked to condense my research into 3 minutes, without jargon, has given me the tools to communicate my research using human analogies that we can all relate to.

What inspires you to do research?

I like to describe what I do as ‘time travel’! Looking at rocks from Earth’s past tells us a wealth of information about the environments, life, energies, water, atmosphere, and much more during that time. It’s as if we can actually go back and know what Earth looked like. This is what inspires me to do my research! A quest to better understand our planet’s history.

What are three key words important to your 3MT?

Worms, sediments, oxygen.

How does your research impact local, provincial, or global communities?

My research will hopefully help our global community understand more about the potential effects of climate change, and what we might expect from the future.

If you had to dedicate your research to anyone from the past, present, or future, who would it be and why?

I would dedicate my research to all those who have inspired me, helped me, and encouraged me throughout my academic endeavours. Dr. Murray Gingras, Dr. Kerrie Bann, my wonderful family, and my amazing lab group!

Sara Biddle – Can Ancient Worms Help Predict the Future?

Watch Sara's Three Minute Thesis