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Science Profile: Interest in Geology Leads Johnny Wardman '07 to Volcano Research

posted on 06/08/2011

by Mary Ellen Collins

Johnny Wardman graduated from Eckerd in 2007 with a B.S. degree in marine science and a concentration in marine geology. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Eckerd alumnus Johnny Wardman '07

Growing up an on island, Bermuda native Johnny Wardman '07 thought a career related to water or marine life seemed like a natural fit. He couldn't have predicted that his experience at Eckerd would eventually lead him to volcanoes instead. After going to boarding school in the U.S. and Canada and graduating from Bishop's College School in Quebec, he says an Eckerd-bound girlfriend, Eckerd's science program, and the warm weather influenced his decision to head to Florida.

"I went to Eckerd with the mindset of doing marine biology, but I wasn't aware of how diverse the program was," he says. "I found that studying microorganisms and algae didn't hold much appeal, but in classes with Professors Laura Wetzel, Gregg Brooks and Joel Thompson, I decided that geology was much more my style. Being able to work for Laura and Gregg as a teaching assistant, I was really surprised at how intrigued I became. It was their courses and their enthusiasm that helped me want to build on that."

In addition to providing a foundation for his post-graduate work, Wardman also credits Eckerd for developing his public speaking ability.

"I think I was really well-prepared to get up in front of peers and give presentations. At the time it was nerve-wracking and tough, but I'm extremely grateful for that."

He graduated with a B.S. in Marine Science and a concentration in Marine Geology, and headed home to Bermuda to earn money for graduate school by working as an electrician, something he had done during summer breaks.

"I'm very interested in construction practices and I've always been keen to learn different trades," he says. The globetrotting Wardman chose the University of Canterbury in New Zealand because he wanted to go someplace new and exciting, and the university offered a program in volcanoes. He focuses his research on the effect of volcanic ash on power supply systems, a specialized discipline that includes the study of hazard and disaster management, volcanology, and electrical engineering.

"The thing that gets me excited is doing the lab work. Electrical and high voltage experimentation is both frightening and exciting at the same time. Electricity is a bit of a mystery, and we're always finding new and strange things we can't explain."

The opportunity to combine his research with his love of traveling to new places has evolved from Wardman's work at the University.

"People have started to express interest in my project because of papers I've written, and I've been able to make reconnaissance trips to investigate impacts to infrastructure after volcanoes. I went to Ecuador to investigate the impact following the 2010 eruption of Tungurahua; and I've been to Guatemala to do some investigating. I just returned from a conference in Montserrat, looking at research that contributes to the understanding of the volcano there. After the conference, I stayed to interview some of the structural personnel. It's great that the University encourages you to take research trips to see and hear about the problems firsthand before you come back and do the experimentation, analyze it, and tell the story."

With the hope of finishing his Ph.D. next year, Wardman has not decided on his next step. Although his area of expertise is just one small component of hazard and disaster management, he can play a critical role in helping to create resilient communities that can better prepare for and respond to natural disasters.

"It's far too difficult to engineer structures to ward off the power of Mother Nature. It's important to serve the power industry and help them prepare to maintain a safe and reliable source of power. Being in this cool and interesting field, there are a lot of opportunities in many different disciplines. Living a little closer to home would be nice, but I'm very open to exploring and going anywhere."

This feature is the fifteenth in a series of profiles of Eckerd alumni and friends who embody the emphasis of the Sciences at Eckerd College. Learn more about the Many Experiences, One Spirit: The Campaign for Eckerd College and the Center for Molecular and Life Sciences, a Campaign priority.

Read Previous Science Profiles:
Brad Pendley '87
Aaron O'Connell '05
Jeffrey Ackley '08
Marion Marshall White '74
Jane A. Petro '68
Olester Benson '74
Rebecca Helm '07
Michael Depledge
Quinton Zondervan '92 and Vincent Coljee '90
Carlos Barbas '85
Paul Cheney '69
Harry Johns '90
Patrick Griffin
Jeffrey Dodge '84

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