Early in his career, Martial Taillefert was struggling to choose between academia and industry. The ACS Career fair helped him find industry contacts to speak with and the career consultants helped refine his resume.
He chose academia, and Taillefert is now a Professor of Geochemistry at Georgia Tech. He feels that an academic lab offers the best combination of opportunities. “I really enjoy combining teaching and research simultaneously, as teaching forces me to remember the theory that I can use in my research,” he says. “I have the freedom to run my group the way I want. I always joke I am running a business without having to provide my own funding.”
“We focus on redox interfaces, mainly, as many metals are influenced by the redox state of the environment. Metals of interest include uranium and arsenic, for example, which are dangerous contaminants in freshwater environments (our main source of drinking water),” Taillefert explains. “At the same time, we are interested in characterizing the processes regulating the transformation of manganese and iron oxides which are involved in the carbon cycle but are also good scavengers of contaminants.”
Taillefert’s lab gathers natural samples to characterize chemically. “Using this approach, we have found that the toxicity of arsenic and uranium affects microbial communities and promotes unexpected behaviors. Similarly, we have identified new biochemical pathways involved in the reduction of manganese and iron oxides by bacteria. Finally, we have recently demonstrated that metals such as iron and manganese are directly involved in the transformation of nitrogen in sediments, which may help improve our understanding of the different reactions that transform this essential element for life.”
Though his research now focuses on more applied problems, Taillefert recommends that undergraduate students get a fundamental background in physics or chemistry to acquire the skills and tools that can be used for real world applications.