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Standout Techie: Niranjan Khalsa

Where are you from?Niranjan Khalsa Studying Rock Slices

Most recently, Santa Fe, NM. I basically grew up in LA, but went to boarding school overseas for 7 ½ years. I attended NMMI in Roswell as a teenager and have lived in Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Espanola, joined the army and lived in Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky. I’ve also lived in Upstate NY (near Canada) and Oregon. I’ve been back here in NM for almost 6 years.

What year are you in here at NMT?

Since I’m a transfer student with a previous degree, I’m technically a senior, even though I have two more semesters after this one in my program.

What is your major and what are you interested in doing once you graduate?

I’m a geology major and though I love all aspects of earth science, I’m especially interested in volcanology. I’m very interested in hazard mapping and monitoring of active volcanoes. I’d love to work for LANL as a geologist doing work in the Valles Caldera after I graduate, but I would really be happy in any geologic field, it’s all fascinating and interesting to me…structural geology and faults, ore deposits and economic geology, geophysics, geochemistry, mineralogy, sedimentology, geothermal, igneous and metamorphic petrology…I love it all, so I’ll be happy in any field I wind up working in, as long as I get to do a lot of field research. Also, I may end up pursuing a Masters Degree here at Tech eventually.

Why did you decide to come to New Mexico Tech?

I’m a transfer student from UNM. I was taking all my classes at the Los Alamos branch because I lived and worked in Espanola and it was closer than main campus in Albuquerque. I’d pretty much maxed out the classes that I could take there, they are so limited at that branch cause there would never be enough students to sign up for the classes so they would get cancelled. I had come to Tech once to visit the mineral museum while on a rock hounding trip and just knew this was going to be the place for me…I love the size of the school and the student body, the campus and the programs…I’d really been dreading having to go to main campus UNM which is huge and so crowded. The classes were really large and it sort of felt like you were cattle being herded through the system…I didn’t like that. The geology degree here at Tech is a lot more in depth than any where else that I know of and we really do have the best faculty of any school I’ve ever been to. Plus, Tech offered me a Transfer Excel scholarship, which really sealed the deal for me!

What activities have you been involved in at NMT?

I’m involved with a very interesting structural geology project in my department; I’m working with my advisor, Gary Axen, and his PhD candidate, Amy Luther. We are doing research on low angle normal faults (aka “Detachments”) in Southern California. The goal is to try to determine the strength of these kinds of faults and hopefully how they form and slip at low angles (<30 degrees), which defies the accepted fault mechanic theory. My part of the project is to do a grain size analysis of the fault rocks at different depths from the slip surface. This sort of analysis has never been done in low angle normal faults before, so it’s very interesting. We spent time camping in the field during winter break in Southern California, which was great. We collected a lot of rocks from the two detachments we are working on there, and I spent the summer prepping and cutting them to make thin sections out of. I will be using different scales of observation to do my analysis, from hand sample and thin section down to SEM imaging. It’s a great project, I’m really learning a lot. This project is going to be my senior thesis as well.

I also participated in a volcano seismology course (GEOP 575) over the summer that my department offered in Ecuador. We spent 3 weeks on the active volcano Tungurahua and deployed a seismic and infrasound array on the volcano and collected a bunch of great data. It was a great learning experience for me as an undergrad; I highly recommend the class to other Geo majors. Hearing and seeing the volcano exploding while we were working on it was really amazing, definitely a high-light for me!

Here on campus I belong to several clubs…the belly dancing club, EES Club, SEG (society of economic geologists), Nu Mu Tau (geophysics – AAPG) and of course Volcano Lunch. I also belong to the astronomy club. My classes and work keep me pretty busy so I don’t always get to participate in activities as much as I’d like.  

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Spare time?? What’s that?? Seriously, everyone needs to have a hobby or something physical to do to balance all the cerebral stuff here at Tech, to let off steam. For me, I’m a life-long rock hound; I love traveling/hiking to cool geologic places and collecting rocks and minerals. Even if I don’t find anything that great, just being outside seeing beautiful and amazing places and interesting geology is really fun for me. I have piles and shelves of rocks at home in Santa Fe, much to the dismay of my boyfriend! (I like all rocks, not just the pretty ones…I have sedimentary structure rocks, fault rocks, volcanic rocks, ore samples, metamorphic rocks and of course minerals too!) I also love to ride my bike, belly dance, playing with my 8 ½ year old daughter who stays with my parents during the week, then is with me in Santa Fe on the weekends, and I also design and create jewelry, which I sell on a website. I recently learned to lamp work my own glass beads and have a torch at home for that purpose. I have a drum set which I enjoy playing and a guitar that I hope to someday have enough time to learn how to play! (I want to learn to play heavy metal style rhythm guitar). I also like to go with my daughter to animal rescue sanctuaries and see her get involved with helping others. I’m a trained mechanic and help my boyfriend maintain his FedEx truck and work on the vehicles when needed as well. When I’m not studying or working, there is always something to do!

Any words of wisdom for potential Techies?

Tech is a great place if you are a serious student and willing to put in the hours. We have great programs, excellent teachers, small, intimate classes with lots of one on one if you want it, and great opportunities for research. If you are willing to put forth the effort, your time at Tech will be very interesting and rewarding. I really can’t imagine going anywhere else!