Acadia researcher examining Earth’s early evolution

Dr. Peir Pufahl
Dr. Peir Pufahl

It’s not every day that world-renowned Oxford University knocks on your door, but when Dr. Peir Pufahl answered, there were big rewards waiting for him. Pufahl, of Acadia University’s Earth and Environmental Science Department, was asked by Dr. Nicholas Tosca, of Oxford, to collaborate with him on a $1 million application to the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for a multi-year project to investigate the evolution of the primitive Earth. The proposal was recently approved and Pufahl’s work with Tosca’s team will begin this year.

“NERC is the leading funder of Earth science research in the UK, so this is a significant opportunity” says Pufahl. “The research we’ll be conducting with world experts is not only tremendously important, but will create a number of opportunities for students based here at Acadia.  Global collaborations are a cornerstone of any successful research program and student involvement is integral.  My research takes me around the world but I come back to a place where professors know their students by their first name regardless of whether they are a first year undergraduate student or completing their graduate studies.   This personalized environment means we can attract some very talented young scholars that have exceptional research opportunities.”

Pufahl is a sedimentologist, and sedimentary rocks are one of the best archives available to reconstruct the history of the early Earth.  Tosca’s research team uses the mineralogy of chemical sediments that are billions of years old to understand how the cycling of elements essential for life changed over time.  The grant focuses on the link between the environmental conditions that led to the precipitation of very ancient chemical sediment and the availability of nutrients necessary for the evolution of life.

Pufahl has been at Acadia for 10 years, and is one of the top-funded Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) scholars at the University.  As Canada’s only phosphorite specialist, Pufahl’s expertise is in high demand and he collaborates extensively with leading researchers and companies, in Canada and in other countries, to understand the geologic processes that create phosphorus ore bodies.  Phosphorite is a chemical sedimentary rock that is the precipitate of the nutrient element phosphorus, making it an important fertilizer ore.  Pufahl brings a unique skillset to the proposed research and has been invited to Oxford to give a series of talks on phosphorite and a related chemical sediment known as iron formation.  Iron formation records the precipitation of bioessential iron and is the most important source of iron for steel manufacture.  Collaboration with colleagues from Oxford will further strengthen Acadia’s research ecosystem by linking with one of the world's premier research institutions.

“Peir’s outstanding international reputation creates research opportunities for him that he then translates into direct research experience for his students,” says Dr. David MacKinnon, Acadia’s Dean of Research and Graduate Studies. “Opportunities like these are rare at other institutions and Peir’s research specialty is growing increasingly important, both in Canada and in developing economies around the world. Being invited to collaborate with researchers at Oxford on this project is testament to Peir’s expertise and his capacity to attract funding and provide scientific leadership.”




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