The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes Benjamin Gill, an assistant professor of geology in the College of Science, for revealing the world as it existed eons ago.
Gill is interested in reconstructing the evolution of biogeochemical cycles over Earth history and the interplay of life with the physical and chemical environment through time.
With that in mind, he reconstructs past environments and ocean chemistry to understand how life evolved. Key to this work is the integration of geochemical data with the sedimentary and fossil record and the application of numerical modeling techniques to reconstruct elemental cycles.
Gill was among a group of multi-institutional researchers involved in a recent study in the journal Nature that discovered it took only a slight bump in oxygen levels to drive the early evolution of animals, not the dramatic jump that scientists thought had taken place.
The scientists determined ancient oxygen levels by analyzing iron found in shale rock, which was once mud on ancient seafloors. The location and amounts of iron in the rock gave important clues about ancient ocean water chemistries.
The researchers discovered oxygen levels rose only slightly in the water and atmosphere about 635 million to 542 million years ago, but the slight rise was enough to trigger life changes nonetheless.
As a result, complicated life-forms such as whales, sharks, and squids to arose from less complicated life forms such as microorganisms, algae, and sponges.
Gill leads the Sedimentary Geochemistry Group in the Department of Geosciences.
He received his doctoral degree in geological sciences from the University of California, Riverside, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He received his bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from the University of Missouri.