EKU professor wins Fulbright for research in Sicily

John White

When he first began studying geology 25 years ago, John White thought he would spend his academic career focused on the Big Bend area of west Texas — the place where he's from.

Then, while a doctoral student at Baylor University, he discovered the geological wonders of Italy, especially Sicily, and now, after many visits there for academic pursuits and for pleasure, the Eastern Kentucky University geosciences professor will return to Sicily as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award recipient.

White has long been engaged in research targeted at understanding magma generation, evolution and volcanism in the Strait of Sicily, according to a news release from EKU. Much of his work has been conducted with Silvio Rotolo and several graduate students at the University of Palermo.

For three months in 2021, White plans to work with Rotolo some more on “The Rise and Fall of Pantelleritic Magmatic Systems: Volcanic Periodicity, Rapid Differentiation and Extreme Fractionation” in the Strait.

“I absolutely love Sicily — the people, the culture, the food and the climate. Learning the language has enabled me to immerse myself in it, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do so for an extended period of time," White said in a news release. "The geology, of course, is also fantastic — and the island of Pantelleria, where nearly all my work in the region is focused, is the ‘type locality’ for a very particular type of high-sodium, high-iron variety of rhyolite called ‘pantellerite,’ which erupts in continental rifts (like East Africa) and on oceanic islands, such as the Azores and Canary islands, so my work there helps us understand magmatic and volcanic processes in these places, too.”

White added that the Fulbright award is “something of a capstone of my research, but also a chance for me to develop several new projects, which I hope to be able to involve undergraduate research students in the future. And, for a class like GLY 108 — earthquakes and volcanoes — Italy provides a wealth of case studies, with its geologic history overlapping with two-plus millennia of historic record. In my opinion, Italy and Sicily have the greatest, most interesting geologic history on the planet.”

He plans to present the results of his Sicily research at least two professional conferences, including a national Geological Society of America meeting in the U.S. and a congress of the Societa Italiana di Mineralogia e Petrologia in Italy. He also plans to submit two papers for publication in “high-impact” international journals such as Journal of Petrology and Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology.

“This work will result in major contributions to the regional geology of the central Mediterranean, and to studies of strongly peralkaline volcanic rocks in general,” White said. “It also offers an opportunity for us to greatly expand the geochemical database for volcanic rocks at Pantelleria, which has potential significance for archaeological studies of the provenance of stone tools in the Mediterranean.”

Since joining EKU faculty in 2003, White, who chaired the department of geosciences from 2008 to 2013, has received numerous honors at Eastern for his research, including the University Research Fellows Award in 2017. His work abroad will enhance student learning in several of his courses, and he hopes to develop opportunities for EKU students to study in Italy.

Reach Sara Kuhl at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @saraekuhl.

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