Boston College Graduate on Fulbright Scholarship to Explore Armenia’s Geological Setting


CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Courtesy of a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, newly minted Boston College graduate Natasha Bednarz will spend the next year in Armenia working on the most comprehensive exploration ever undertaken of the Caucasus’ geological setting.

As a researcher at the National Institute of Geological Sciences, Bednarz will participate in the groundbreaking Transect project, which, in addition to its important scientific potential, is also pioneering as a historic collaboration.

Prior to this initiative, “political tensions have prevented coordinated collection of seismic data, thwarting a robust analysis of the region’s shared seismic hazards,” she explains. “The Transect project has secured the cooperation of each major Caucasus country — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey.”

As the first significant scientific alliance among the countries of the Caucasus, the Transect project could set a precedent for continued and deepened partnerships, she notes. “The implications go beyond science: for countries with relationships as complex as Armenia and Azerbaijan, fruitful collaboration of any sort sends a powerful message of peace and reconciliation.”

Bednarz will assist in analyzing data from more than 100 new seismic monitoring stations installed across the region. Her role in the Transect project is in part a continuation of her senior thesis research, for which she spent a year investigating earthquakes in the Caucasus region using cellular seismology — an analytic process conceived by her mentor, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Alan Kafka, in which seismologists systematically investigate the relationship between locations of past and future earthquakes in a given region. She worked with Kafka on the thesis, and had conducted independent research with him during her junior year.

In the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, Bednarz majored in geological sciences and minored in physics. She is a member of the Sigma Pi Sigma honor society, which recognizes outstanding scholarship in physics, and the Omicron Chapter of Massachusetts Phi Beta Kappa. In 2014, she was awarded an Advanced Study Grant for a project titled “A Stride Towards Geothermal Development.”

Her research in Armenia, made possible by the Fulbright award, is “an opportunity to dedicate my passion for geophysics to a project that tangibly serves the people of Armenia. My work will contribute to improved seismic hazard assessments, which save lives and protect infrastructure by demarcating zones of seismic danger.”

Another perk, according to the avid hiker, is the chance to explore the region. “Much of my study of our planet takes place indoors, through digital interfaces, so I treasure the chances I have to explore on foot. I will seek out locals who share this hobby, and engage with the Armenian hiking community while I discover the nation’s trails and mountains.”

Bednarz says her Fulbright project ties together important experiences from her undergraduate years. “In addition to my academic coursework in geology and physics, I spent the past three summers interning with diverse earth science institutions in New Mexico, Guatemala City and Yerevan, experiencing firsthand the intimate intersection of human communities and their environmental surroundings.”

Her time on the Heights was distinguished not only by academic accomplishments, but by a host of extracurricular activities. Among them, Bednarz worked as a reporter at The Heights, volunteered as a science mentor for girls in the Boston Public Schools, held leadership positions — including a term as president — in the Boston College Geology Association, performed with both the Boston College Symphony Orchestra and Middle Eastern Ensemble and competed on several intramural sports teams.

When she returns to the US after her year in Armenia, Bednarz hopes to publish her research and go on to pursue a graduate degree in geophysics. With that advanced degree, she plans to work as a geophysical researcher, with a focus on earthquakes in international contexts. The Yardley, Pennsylvania native says her long-term goal “is to serve as a liaison between the seismological communities of the US and other nations, continuously exploring the intersection between geology and culture.”