Sarah J. Feakins

Sarah Associate Professor of Earth Sciences

I study climate and plant life with students and visitors in my Leaf Wax Lab at USC. The vehicle for our research progress is the waxy coating on plant leaves. These remarkable molecules have important functions for living plants and are preserved over geological time.

“Leaf wax is the molecular legacy of past forests and grasslands.”

We can reconstruct evidence for how climate patterns and plant life have changed over tens of millions of years, from that which has been eroded from land and preserved in sediments offshore. To access sea-floor sediments, I participate in the International Ocean Discovery Program, steering future expeditions and conducting post-expedition research. My research is driven by a need to understand those environments relevant to our evolution and warm times of the past that are relevant to our future trajectory. We contribute knowledge of how the climate system works and how plants respond and interact with climate by studying ecosystems past and present.

“Warm periods of the past provide lessons for future climate states, beyond the range of historical witness.”

The core of my research is enabled through funding by the United States National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Society, the University of Southern California and from the Women in Science and Engineering Program. Lab group members past and present build the knowledge base and shape the direction of ongoing progress. With more resources (human and financial), we can dig deeper and further to expose the secrets of the past, we can engage more students in research and push forward the boundaries of knowledge, to address very real and pressing societal challenges. If you want to learn more about why and how we strive to push forward frontiers in the leaf wax lab: read some papers or press, watch a video, follow @SFeakins, or contact me to express interest to join our efforts in many different ways.

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