Climate Change and Mass Extinctions

A slab of rock from a study site in Nevada harbors many specimens of colonies of Metabolograptus extraordinarius, a shallow-water graptolite species, which together with some close relatives, replaced all the formerly dominant species following the end-Ordovician mass extinction. We study the changes in algal biomarkers to better understand the causes of this sort of mass extinction. Credit: Charles E. Mitchell.

Students will explore why and how mass extinctions occurred during the past, helping us better predict how the current mass extinction will proceed.

Project description

Understanding why and how mass extinctions occurred during the past will help us to better predict how the current mass extinction will proceed. We use lipid biomarkers to reconstruct ocean surface conditions during past mass extinction events, and to link those surface conditions to changes in biodiversity.

Project outcome

This project will culminate in a written scientific report that may be submitted for publication to a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It can also culminate in a research poster presentation at a scientific conference.

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment longer than a semester; 6-9 months
Start time Spring, Summer
Level of collaboration Individual student project, likely in collaboration with a graduate student
Benefits Academic Credit, Volunteer
Who is eligible Students with strong communication and organization skills, interest in geology, chemistry, and climate change, interest in working in a chemistry lab
Goldwater and the National Science Foundation

Students participating in this project might be interested in and eligible for the Goldwater Scholarship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Connect with the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships to learn more.

Project mentor

Elizabeth Thomas

Assistant Professor


126 Cooke Hall

Phone: (716) 645-4329


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 

  • Attend lab safety training 
  • Contact faculty mentor to discuss project availability and goals.