COSAM Faculty Focus: Laura Bilenker Researches Valuable Deposits of Precious Metals by Making Magma in the Lab
Dr. Laura Bilenker grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, which is about an hour west of New York City. In September 2018, she became an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences in the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) at Auburn University. Her focus is economic geology that includes understanding more about high concentrations of valuable metals such as copper in rocks.
As a child, she always had a love for the outdoors. Even as a little girl, she would collect rocks, minerals and gemstones. “I would always pick up rocks at recess in Kindergarten,” she reminisced. “My mom would hear a banging noise in the washing machine and knew that I must have left another rock in the pockets of my clothes.”
Dr. Bilenker completed her undergraduate degree in 2008 at the University of Maryland. She then pursued her master’s degree in geology at the University of California, Riverside.
“It was absolutely amazing to attend school on the west coast where I could see so much visible geology and feel earthquakes for the first time,” said Dr. Bilenker.
She finished her doctoral degree in geology at the University of Michigan in 2015. After graduation, she taught a field-based introductory course in geology and environmental geology at Bucknell University, a private liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Bilenker spent more than two years in Vancouver, British Columbia as a post-doctoral student at the University of British Columbia. Her research included geochemistry and economic geology. One of her favorite parts of working in Canada was to be able to collaborate with other professionals throughout the country through MAGNET, the Multi-Disciplinary Applied Geochemistry Network. This led to her being able to intern with a company that manufactures geology-centric equipment. “I was able to see the other side of the machines that I use for my research,” she explains.
Dr. Bilenker is looking forward to building her own laboratory in the Department of Geosciences where she can work in-depth with magmatic systems. Her research will include conducting experiments in nature as well as mimicking systems in her lab. She will be using furnaces that heats up to more than 1,000 degrees to make magmatic systems. Her research will help her understand what factors are associated with forming these large natural deposits of metals.
“I really enjoy the close-knit community within COSAM and the opportunity for collaboration,” she explains. “One of the reasons I was excited to be part of Auburn University is the resources for research and teaching. I can do more here than at other institutions.” She also is excited about the opportunity to work with and mentor students in geosciences.
When she is not working, Dr. Bilenker enjoys hiking and camping. She often meets her sister near Atlanta for excursions in natural areas. She is looking forward to exploring nature here in Auburn.
Jenda awarded a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from the White House.08/10/2020