Nigel Brauser is a graduate student who studies the materials of the Earth’s core using diamond anvil cell experiments coupled with computer models.
Earth’s solid inner core shows strong seismic anisotropy: waves travel faster in the north/south direction than they do in the equatorial plane. Exactly why is yet unknown. Likely, the grains of metal that comprise the inner core are aligned with the Earth’s rotational axis. This alignment is due either to the grains solidifying in that orientation as the inner core slowly grows from the liquid outer core, or because the inner core is viscoelastically deforming in a way which preferentially aligns the grains.
Nigel performs experiments on the materials that make up the inner core, iron-nickel alloys. By compressing and heating samples of alloy to extreme pressures and temperatures in a laser-heated diamond anvil cell, Nigel can determine how these materials behave deep in the Earth, where samples are inaccessible, and direct observation is limited. Nigel uses the results of these to inform the viscosity of the inner core, to better constrain the mechanisms responsible for the observed anisotropy. Identifying the responsible mechanism can help to demystify the thermal history and dynamical processes of the deep Earth.
Nigel is a first-generation college student from rural Northeastern Pennsylvania. Outside of the lab, Nigel’s hobbies include swimming and walking at Hyde Park’s beautiful Lake Michigan beaches, volunteering at Nichol’s Park Wildflower Meadow, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and fermenting mead, cider, pickles, and sauerkraut.