For over 20 years, Mike Zawaski has been filling many roles in science and outdoor education. He is the co-developer of the innovative teaching style, Kinesthetic Astronomy and runs a nonprofit, The Observant Naturalist, offering science professional development for teachers. Twenty years of instructing courses for Outward Bound has taken Mike up glaciated mountains, guiding multi-pitch rock climbs, rafting down rivers, backpacking through canyons, and kayaking the ocean. Mike also instructs ten day Wilderness First Responder courses for NOLS Wilderness Medicine.
Mike is a second-year PhD student in the Department of Geological Sciences where he studies changing environmental conditions at the Permian-Triassic extinction - 250 million years ago- by studying stromatolites (fossil bacteria) and geochemistry. Extinctions are dramatic events that caused some species to go extinct and change populations of ecosystems. During ecological collapse, stromatolites seem to flourish. By using multiple isotopes of sulfur, Mike hopes to shed some light on the origin of this extinction by determining if an atmospheric perturbation from volcanism or an impact damaged the ozone layer allowing ultraviolet light to penetrate deeper into the atmosphere. Evidence for this will hopefully be found in abnormal ratios of sulfur isotopes deposited in the shallow marine environment of the Lykins Formation where stromatolites are found.
Additional research experience by Mike includes surveying Inca monuments to determine their astronomical significance and completing the fieldwork necessary to create geologic maps of Western Colorado while working for the Colorado Geological Survey.