Well-traveled and highly educated are words that could describe Cinzia Cervato, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences at Iowa State University.
As a child, Cinzia’s father would read to her from a book filled with pictures of minerals and gemstones. This “beautiful book of images,” as Cinzia recalls, included stories of where each rock was from and where it could be found on a map. One day she asked her father what she had to do in order to see them. He replied, “You should become a geologist.”
Her passion stayed with her throughout high school and into college. Cinzia has earned a doctorate of geology from the University of Padua in Italy, a doctorate of science and a doctorate of natural science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland.
Before coming to Iowa State, she was a lecturer at ETH Zurich, an assistant professor for four years at the University of Maine, and spent three years in the oil industry in Norway. She also did field work in Asia, including some hydrogeology work in the Philippines.
Cinzia says that access to clean, quality water is a major problem in countries like the Philippines. In one village, she explains, each house has its own well and its own outhouse. After looking at the topography of the land, it was clear that outhouse waste was draining directly into the wells. This was especially dangerous during the rainy season, when deaths of young children from diseases associated with contaminated water would increase dramatically.
When recalling her experience in the Philippines, there is one particular day that Cinzia will never forget. “I walked into the church and there was a funeral for an adult. I saw a young couple, about 18 to 20 years old, walking in with a little box. They went to the front of the church and they put the little box close to the other coffin and then sat down. The couple was so poor that they couldn’t afford their own funeral for the baby. Knowing how many children die there, and not just from malnutrition but from contaminated water; it’s just heart-wrenching.”
Cinzia adds that people tend to take clean water coming out of the tap for granted. “I think everyone needs to take a trip to places where that is not the case.”
One project that Cinzia is currently working on is a well lab set up at Stuart Smith Park in Ames. Eight wells were drilled at the site and four of the wells are equipped with technology that automatically collects data on the water level in the wells. The other four wells are monitored by the Geology 100 lab students, as a research project that Cinzia and her teaching assistants oversee.
When looking back at her experiences over the years, Cinzia says, “I’ve never regretted becoming a geologist. I think it’s the best job in the world.”