Skip to content. Skip to main navigation.

Fall 2015

Inquiry Magazine Archive

  • Spring 2016

    Spring 2016: Premium Blend

    Found in everything from space shuttles to dental fillings, composite materials have thoroughly infiltrated modern society. But their potential is still greatly untapped, offering researchers ample opportunity for discovery.

  • Fall 2015

    Fall 2015: Collision Course

    Within the particle showers created at the Large Hadron Collider, answers to some of the universe’s mysteries are waiting.

  • Spring 2015

    Spring 2015: Almost Human

    Model systems like pigeons can help illuminate our own evolutionary and genomic history.

  • Fall 2014

    Fall 2014: Small Wonder

    UT Arlington's tiny windmills are bringing renewable energy to a whole new scale.

  • Winter 2014

    Winter 2014: Overdue for an Overhaul

    The stability of our highways, pipelines, and even manholes is reaching a breaking point.

  • 2012

    2012: Mystery solved?

    Scientists believe they have discovered a subatomic particle that is crucial to understanding the universe.

  • 2011

    2011: Boosting brain power

    UT Arlington researchers unlock clues to the human body’s most mysterious and complex organ.

  • 2010

    2010: Powered by genetics

    UT Arlington researchers probe the hidden world of microbes in search of renewable energy sources.

  • 2009

    2009: Winning the battle against pain

    Wounded soldiers are benefiting from Robert Gatchel’s program that combines physical rehabilitation with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • 2009

    2007: Sensing a solution

    Tiny sensors implanted in the body show promise in combating acid reflux disease, pain and other health problems.

  • 2006

    2006:Semiconductors: The next generation

    Nanotechnology researchers pursue hybrid silicon chips with life-saving potential.

  • 2005

    2005: Imaging is everything

    Biomedical engineers combat diseases with procedures that are painless to patients.


Ultimate Survivors

Scientists uncover importance of elemental carbon in rebuilding life after mass extinction 

illustration of marine organisms

Layers of elemental carbon were found in the shells of marine organisms that survived mass extinction.

More than 252 million years ago, Earth experienced one of the greatest mass extinctions in its history. A new study led by UTA scientists demonstrates for the first time how elemental carbon became an important construction material for ocean life after that catastrophic event.

At the end of the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era, more than 90 percent of terrestrial and marine species became extinct. According to the study’s co-author, earth and environmental sciences Professor Merlynd Nestell, there was extensive volcanic activity in both hemispheres during that time, as well as synchronous volcanic activity in what is now Australia and southern China that could have burned Permian vegetation.

“Much of the volcanic activity was connected with the Siberian flood basalt known as the Siberian Traps that emerged through Permian-aged coal deposits,” Dr. Nestell explains. “And of course, the burning of coal created carbon dioxide.”

For the study, researchers focused on a section of Permian-aged rocks in Vietnam just south of the Chinese border. There, Professor Emeritus Brooks Elwood collected closely spaced samples from a four-meter interval in the boundary strata for magnetic and geochemical properties.

The team discovered that the carbon from this ash accumulated in the atmosphere and marine environment and was used by some marine microorganisms in the composition of their shells—something they had never done before. These organisms included the single-celled agglutinated foraminifers, ostracodes, and worm tubes that made up part of the very limited population of bottom-dwelling marine organisms that survived the extinction event.

“Although black layers were revealed in specimens of the boundary-interval foraminifers seen in slices of rock, nobody really checked the composition of the black material,” explains Galina P. Nestell, study co-author and adjunct research professor of earth and environmental sciences.

The data the team collected and analyzed supports the presence of products of coal combustion that contributed to the high input of carbon into the marine environment immediately after the extinction event.

The team’s study was published in the March edition of International Geology Review.

Illustration by JING JING TSONG

More articles from this issue

UT Arlington - Office of Research