Richard Gregory Vaughan, PhD

I am a research scientist who specializes in using remote sensing tools and techniques to study dynamic geologic and environmental processes, with an emphasis on volcanic and geothermal phenomena.

Biography

I am originally from Charlottesville, VA.  I attended Virginia Tech (BS Geology, 1992); then went to graduate school at the University of Georgia, where I studied the sulfur isotope geochemistry of seafloor hydrothermal sulfide deposits (black smoker chimneys) and got the opportunity to go on research cruise to the East Pacific Rise and dive in the Alvin research submersible (MS 1995).  I then spent a few years working as a field geologist in the mineral exploration and mining industry in Nevada.  I returned to academia at the University of Nevada Reno (PhD 2004).  My PhD project, funded by NASA, was focused on the use of infrared imaging spectroscopy to identify and map surface minerals associated with active geothermal systems, hydrothermal alteration, and acid mine drainage.  

In October 2004, I started a Caltech postdoctoral fellowship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.  Coincident with my first day on the job, Mount St Helens began a renewed lava dome eruption that lasted until 2008.  And quite fortuitously, there was a NASA remote sensing aircraft in the region, already scheduled to acquire some high-resolution visible and thermal infrared images and LiDAR data in the Cascades.  So, I hit the ground running on my new job, applying my remote sensing expertise to study something that had long been an interest: active volcanism.  Ever since, my research has focused on the remote characterization of thermal emission from active volcanic and geothermal areas. 

I started my career with the USGS in 2008 as a Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellow, studying hydrothermal activity in Yellowstone using satellite thermal infrared data.  I am the remote sensing team lead for the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and work closely with the National Park Service to use a combination of aerospace remote sensing observations and field work to map, measure, and monitor Yellowstone’s dynamic thermal areas.  I also work on various projects with the USGS Geothermal Energy Program and the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program

In addition to my scientific research I am passionate about science education and communication to broad public audiences.  When I was in Pasadena, I taught Earth Science classes at Pasadena City College and Cal State Northridge.  I have also taught undergraduate geology classes for the Geology Department at Northern Arizona University (as adjunct faculty).  I am the education and public outreach coordinator for the USGS Flagstaff Science Campus and serve as a liaison to the Board of Directors for the Flagstaff Festival of Science, the longest, continuously running, entirely free science festival in the world.  Lastly, I am a co-Investigator on a NASA-funded education project called PLANETS, which is a collaborative partnership among education experts, curriculum developers, subject matter experts, and K-12 teachers across the country.  (Want more details?  My full cv is here.)