Fritz awarded elite visiting professorship in Sweden

Fritz awarded elite visiting professorship in Sweden

Sherilyn Fritz

A trans-Atlantic research network stemming back to graduate school has led Sherilyn Fritz to a prestigious visiting professorship at Sweden’s Lund University.

Fritz, a George Holmes University Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, will spend the spring and summer of 2017 as the Swedish Research Council’s Tage Erlander Visiting Professor. Established in 1981 to honor Sweden’s longest-serving prime minister, the professorship is annually awarded to one international researcher in the natural sciences or engineering.

“I’m totally thrilled to have this opportunity,” Fritz said. “The research collaboration that will be the centerpiece of my stay there is outside my specific area of expertise, so I’ll learn a lot of new things.”

Fritz’s expertise straddles the geological, biological and atmospheric sciences. She has spent much of her career studying the fossil record of diatoms – microscopic algae that have inhabited lakes for millions of years – to reconstruct the prehistory of climate change.

She embarked on that research path as a doctoral student, when Fritz’s adviser also connected her with a couple of research groups in Sweden. Fritz maintained and expanded that network over the years, spending her 2003 sabbatical at Lund and part of 2012 in Stockholm. Those account for just two of her many trips to the country, whether to attend conferences and workshops or simply visit colleagues who gradually became good friends.

Last year, Fritz reached out to a Swedish colleague about involving his research group in a study of Wyoming’s Yellowstone Lake, which lies partly inside a volcanic crater and offers a unique opportunity to investigate hydrothermal dynamics.

“When the announcement for this distinguished professorship came up, he suggested that I apply for it as a good means of collaborating more extensively,” Fritz said. “His department was really enthusiastic about nominating me and the possibility of having me in residence, so the broad-scale enthusiasm and multiple opportunities for networking propelled me to apply.”

Fritz also plans to collaborate with colleagues in Stockholm and Gothenburg who study questions about South America that she has devoted more than 20 years to answering. Most recently, that research has investigated how upheaval in the Andes Mountains, fluctuations in Amazon River deposits and shifts in climate have affected species diversity and extinction in the South American tropics.

The visiting professorship will further allow Fritz to bring aboard a young scholar who can assist with her research. During the fall semester, Fritz served on the dissertation committee of a French doctoral student – now postdoctoral researcher – who Fritz said has “the perfect skill set” for the Yellowstone project.

“So I’m thrilled to be able to provide a vehicle for her to continue her career in geosciences, especially because positions for young scientists are even more difficult to find in Europe than in the United States,” Fritz said.

With mere weeks to go before she departs for Sweden, Fritz said her excitement transcends the academic. The chance to again embrace the cultural charms and natural wonders of Scandinavia, she said, have her eager to set foot in a country at once foreign and familiar.

“Day-to-day life has many wonderful aspects – riding bicycles everywhere; lots of attention to healthy and thoughtfully prepared food, and to being outside and interacting with the natural world; watching the days get longer as you go from deep, dark winter toward mid-summer – so it will be fun to have new routines in my daily life.”