PhD Candidate in Geobiology
M.S. '18 in Planetary Science (Caltech)
B.A. '16 in Earth and Planetary Sciences and Astrophysics (Harvard University)
Caltech Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences
Geobiologist | Artist | Science Communicator
Cecilia B. Sanders
Currently, I am a PhD candidate in Geobiology in Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences. My doctoral thesis is focused on sedimentary phosphorite deposits in Eastern Brazil. It is a work of sedimentology/stratigraphy, micropaleontology, and geochemical analysis, addressing the ecological conditions necessary for authigenic phosphate mineralization on the São Francisco Craton during the Ediacaran Period.
My research is ultimately motivated by my avid interest in the origins and evolution of life in the universe. How did life begin, and what was it like through deep time? In order to answer such questions, we must understand how our record of ancient life is formed. For me, this means studying the preservation potential for biosignatures of organisms with different metabolic strategies and environmental niches. I do this by looking at the Precambrian geologic record and prying later, diagenetic features apart from structures related to the primary depositional environment: the world in which the rock was formed. And sometimes, by studying the behavior of modern microorganisms under conditions analogous to ancient environments.
Teaching and Outreach
Geological and planetary sciences are an excellent access point to the sciences, because the subject matter is everywhere: rocks, sky, water, life. I use this principle in my education and outreach work: observe, document, and experiment with your immediate surroundings (things you can touch and experience directly), and more abstract and fantastic concepts will follow.
In addition to working as a teaching assistant during my graduate studies at Caltech, I also:
Design and implement hands-on science lesson plans for elementary school students in the Pasadena Unified School District through Caltech's Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (weekly or biweekly Visiting Scientists Program, collaboration with PUSD teachers and administrators)
Give lectures on Earth and space sciences locally (schools, museums, community science exploration events) and remotely/online
Mentor undergraduate and Master's students through their graduate school and fellowship applications
As long as I can remember, I have loved storytelling: the process of creating a world and populating it with fantastic characters. As a child, I made paper dolls, assembled small fairies out of florists' wire and fabric, and wrote about and illustrated the lands they inhabited. Today, in my professional work with landscapes, microscopic fossils, and sedimentary structures, I apply that childhood's love in new ways. I go the field, I observe and measure, I create graphite-and-ink drawings and digital renderings of my subjects, and I collect samples. I use these data to build a picture of an ancient and faraway world: Precambrian Earth, Noachian Mars, shallow seas, deep caves, etc. Outside of the artwork and graphic design I produce for my research, I also draw and paint fictional landscapes, maps, characters, and creatures, and write stories about them.