Faculty Spotlight: Meet Professor Michael Meyer
Whether it’s for their groundbreaking research, expertise, or amazing discoveries, HU’s professors regularly appear in local, national, and international headlines showcasing their work.
Dr. Michael Meyer, HU assistant professor of Earth Systems Science, is the most recent faculty member to make a splash.
After recently studying fossilized clams he discovered in Sarasota, Fla., years ago, Meyer noticed the sediment found inside of them contained tiny microtektites, or particles that form when an extraterrestrial object crashes into Earth. This sent molten debris into the atmosphere where they cool and recrystallize before falling back to the surface. He determined that these perfect little spheres, each smaller than a grain of sand, were created by a previously unknown meteorite that crashed near Florida some 2-3 million years ago.
Meyer’s discovery rocked the astronomy world. Astronomy.com, International Business Times, and numerous other news outlets profiled the miraculous discovery that was years in the making.
Meyer collected the fossilized clams as an undergraduate student in 2006. At the time, he had no idea what he had come across. It wasn’t until he recently studied the chemical properties of these small “glass pearls” in a lab at HU that he realized the importance of what he found.
“This high sodium content is intriguing because it suggests a very close location for the impact,” Meyer said in a recent International Business Times interview. “Or at the very least, whatever impact created it likely hit a very large reserve of rock salt or the ocean. A lot of those indicators point to something close to Florida.”
Meyer is an assistant professor in the Environmental Science and Sustainable Processes Program here at HU, teaching Introduction to Environmental Science, Hydrology, and Soils in the Critical Zone courses. He also leads a Scientific Mind course at HU.
His higher education journey started near his home in a suburb of Chicago at William Rainey Harper Community College.
Early on, Meyer knew he wanted to be a Paleontologist. But Harper Community College only had one geology course. It did have a world-class a anthropology department, however. So, he started out as an Anthropology major, with a focus on Meso-America and North American archeology.
After earning an associates degree, Meyer transferred to Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., where he earned a B.S. with a double major in Geology and Anthropology.
He then made his way to graduate school, earning a M.S. in Geology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Next stop was Virginia Tech University. While in Virginia, he expanded his analytical background as he worked on his Ph.D. This is also where he immersed himself in Earth Systems and material science, and it marked the start of his interest in ‘Big Data Geosciences.
Meyer is devoted to Earth Systems Science, or the interaction of physical, chemical, and biological process, because, as he puts it, “They encompass so much, both in scope (the entire planet!) and in our everyday lives. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we farm are all part of inter-related systems that span from hours to tens of thousands of years. Alterations to any part along these systems causes changes that can, and do, affect us.”
In conducting research, Meyer’s early work focused on the earliest multi-cellular fossils in the rock record from the Ediacaran Period (635–541 million years ago).
“During that time period the Earth was like an alien planet compared to now! The atmosphere and ocean looked nothing like we know them today, and nothing lived on land,” Meyer said. “So, understanding Earth Systems back then is very important for understanding the development of life in such an environment. That work led to my broadening of my interests to include in material science, geochemistry, and ‘Big Data’ analysis. Since coming to HU, I have published on a new fossil (from Hummelstown!) and possible asteroid impact debris in southern Florida. I am also working on bringing virtual reality field trips to HU and investigating the hydrological systems of the Susquehanna River Basin.”
When he isn’t teaching or conducting research, Meyer, who also is an Eagle Scout, normally can be found outdoors- he is a big hiker and camper. He is a big fan of Terry Prachett novels and said he probably listens to too much Weird Al.
So, what led this self-professed Weird Al fan to HU by way of Virginia, Florida, and Chicago?
“I enjoy the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ at HU and the support that the administration and faculty give to each other,” he said. “This is reflected in the community the students cultivate with each other and how they interact in class. I love that our students come from such varied backgrounds, there is always something new that they contribute!”
About Harrisburg University
Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields to a diverse student body. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.