Research spotlight: Malcolm Hodgskiss

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Malcolm Hodgskiss, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geological Sciences, uses geochemistry to understand the processes that took place billions of years ago. He is especially interested in the Proterozoic era of Earth’s history, a period of time often referred to by scientists as the “Boring Billion” due to its environmental and evolutionary stability. According to Hodgskiss, there is nothing boring about it.

Hodgskiss was awarded a grant from the France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies to research changing oxygen levels during the Great Oxygenation Event, which occurred during the Proterozoic era. “During this time, it is widely thought that oxygen levels decreased significantly, potentially having a major impact on the evolution of early life,” he explained.

Through the grant, Malcolm spent four months in Brest, France working with Dr. Stefan Lalonde at the Institut Universitaire Européen de la Mer, one of only three institutions in the world with the laboratory infrastructure to support his unique project.

Hodgskiss and his collaborators dissolved and purified 200 rock samples deposited between 2.1 and 1.8 billion years ago to separate the element molybdenum. Using a high resolution multi collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (pictured left) to analyze the molybdenum, they measured isotopic ratios that suggest atmospheric oxygen levels may not have decreased but instead remained constant.

“This is an important contribution for understanding the evolution of early life and the ancient molybdenum biogeochemical cycle,” he emphasized.

In addition to conducting pioneering research, Hodgskiss is grateful that the fellowship provided him with the opportunity to travel abroad and meet new people. “My time in Brest was highly enjoyable, and I met many great friends and potential collaborators for the future. It was great to live in a foreign culture, and being able to stay for four months made it a really wonderful and immersive experience.”

He expects to submit his research for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal next spring.  

The France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies brings faculty and students from across Stanford’s departments and schools together and into contact with colleagues in France, to explore issues of common intellectual concern, to advance collaborative research, and to foster interdisciplinary inquiry.

Visit the center’s website for information about funding opportunities including fellowships, internships, conferences, and collaborative research projects.