Zsuzsanna Balogh-Brunstad

Assistant Professor of Chemistry

What is your position at Hartwick?/What career path did you take to your position?
I am an assistant professor at Hartwick sharing a position between the departments of chemistry and geology. By training I am geologist. I took "the long way" to get there, even though I always wanted to be a geologist. I earned my bachelor's degree in math, geography and education at University of Pécs, Hungary, and then I completed a master's degree in physical geography with education also at University of Pécs. I tried out teaching math at a middle school for a year. In addition, I completed course work for a degree in tourism management that I did not finish; instead I came to the US. Working as a laboratory technician at the Geoanalytical Laboratory of Washington State University made me realize that I should continue my education, which was also strongly encouraged by my supervisor. I applied, I got in, and I completed a PhD in geology focusing on chemical hydrology and geochemistry of forested ecosystems, and then a post-doctorate in biogeochemistry.

What brought you to Hartwick?/Why Hartwick?
When time came for searching for a job, I was looking for a job at a small college, in a small town where I can have personal contact with students, have small class sizes and my primary responsibility is teaching. I worked at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in NH during my PhD research, so I was familiar with the New England and Mid-Atlantic region and it reminded me of Europe, which attracted me to this region.

Where are you from?/Where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in the countryside of Hungary in a mid-sized town of 55,000 people. However, I spent all of my summers at my grandparents' house in a small village of 200 people, where I was allowed to roam the fields, forests and learned a lot about agriculture from growing vegetables to raising animals through harvesting corn and wheat, and processing everything. Then during the high school years I started travelling and exploring the neighboring countries, climbing couple of peaks in the Alps and the Carpathians with friends that I continued during my bachelor years. I lived in Pécs, Hungary for six years while I completed my bachelor and master degrees. I lived in Pullman, WA for eight years while I worked as a laboratory technician, and then completed my PhD and a 2-year post doctorate position before I moved to Oneonta.

Why is the "Liberal Arts in Practice" method an effective way for your students to learn?
Because it is hands on and it is the best way to practice the scientific method while allowing exploration of other fields. I can only speak from the science side of it, but it is a great blend of knowledge. As a geologist, for example, we need to make a) field sketches to understand the field relations of different rock bodies and structures; b) laboratory sketches to layout experimental set-ups and models of the studied processes and taking an art class is very beneficial to improve the 2-D and 3-D thinking and drawing. In addition to the science education, courses in humanities and social sciences help us to interpret and understand the bigger picture of the impacts of our society on the environment, our responsibility for future management and sustainable living. The "Liberal Arts in Practice" method can provide a great foundation for any field, because it allows learning about "both side of the coin" without bogging down with too much technicalities of all of the fields. In Hungary, my high school was "Liberal Arts in Practice" and after many-many years I still benefit from the education that I got there.

What about your work energizes/excites you?
The challenges that I need to overcome to understand the relationship and processes between the geological and biological interface that I am studying and include this complexity in my classes. It is relatively easy to energize/excite me with new science discoveries of my field of biogeochemistry and that how much we do not know and need to understand to survive this "human experiment" that we started with the industrialization and influencing/changing our environment.

Do you consider yourself a mentor to students? In what way?
Yes. In many ways, as I am setting an example of "can do" -- working hard, follow my own head, but listening to advice and speaking up when needed. Being well-travelled and having a multi-cultural experience, I can help students to do the "impossible" and try new things outside of their comfort zone. I help and guide students on many things from how to apply for internships, jobs and graduate school to how to travel in a foreign country through how to be resourceful to beat the challenges and I do collaborative research projects with students.

What are your classes like?/What is your best place to teach?
Ideally, I like to teach in the laboratory and outside/in the field. In practice, we are confined to a classroom and lectures part of the time. Both sides are important. We need to learn the background, what has been done, what is the theory behind the work that we want to do, so reading, understanding and discussion are very, very important. Then put all of it into practice with solving problems, running experiments and discovering the relationships in the field. Laboratory and field exercises make memories for students that burn into their brain forever, especially when we let them do the discovery, observations and testing, and allow them to make a few mistakes and do it again and again until it is right. To understand your work, you need to dig deep, do it directly, and learn from your mistakes.

How do you describe our students to colleagues, friends and family?
Great kids, open to challenges and who put up with me as I push them beyond their comfort zone.

Have you won any awards/special honors/recognition?
I received the Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship for early career scientists in 2010 for two years. I came up with some ideas about root-microbe-mineral interfaces, wrote a proposal and I got the fellowship. Someone had seen one of my posters at a conference and they were interested in my work. The program chooses you based on your research ideas, but also on who you are, how well you work with others, and if they think you are trainable. I spent the last two years at the NanoGeoScience Group of the Chemistry Department at University of Copenhagen, Denmark doing research on microbe-mineral interfaces and surface properties of minerals using various surface sensitive microscopy techniques. I also built several new collaborations with researchers at various European universities such as Lund University in Sweden, Hasselt University in Belgium and others in England and Germany while I was maintaining my US collaborations.

My student, Kyle A. Greenberg '13, and I received the 2011-2012 Freedman Prize at Hartwick in the Natural and Physical Sciences division that allows us to continue the investigation of the interaction between roots, minerals, fungi and bacteria using scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy analysis.

What research are you doing, how do you engage your students in your work?
My major interest is to understand how biology, geology, and chemistry interact. My specific research interests are how microbes and plants interact with rocks; how plants decompose rocks and affect water quality and soil formation; and how the network among plants, fungi, and bacteria govern the mineral nutrient availability and the health of the forest. I am also interested in basic watershed processes such as geochemical evolution of water, spatial and temporal variations in geochemistry, soil formation and the effect of vegetation on these processes. In addition, I try to understand the influence of humans and their activities on watershed processes, mainly on water quality, potential chemical and physical pollutions.

Students are always involved. Mostly through their senior thesis projects that are required by both of my departments. On the other hand, I had students working with me during summers as field and laboratory assistants, or completing their internships without any relation to senior thesis work. Lately, I had one our seniors, Kimberly Negrich '11, worked with me at the NanoGeoScience Group of the Chemistry Department at University of Copenhagen, Denmark during the J Term of her senior year, 2011. She produced a very good data set of biotite (dark mica) surfaces that were naturally exposed to forest development in Southern Sweden using atomic force microscopy that is incorporated into my larger work and in preparation for publication. I also have two students, Sheila M. Niedziela '13 and Kyle A. Greenberg '13, who have been working with me since summer 2011 on our National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project in collaboration with Washington State University, Pullman, WA and the Environmental Molecular Science Laboratories of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA. This project is trying to determine the role of biofilm in nutrient acquisition processes under potassium and calcium limitations.

What are your most recent publications, scholarly works, exhibitions, performances?
One of my most recent publications appeared in Geobiology:

Brantley, S. L., J. P. Megonigal, F. N. Scatena, Z. Balogh-Brunstad, R. T. Barnes, M. A. Bruns, P. van Cappelen, K. Dontsova, H. Hartnett, T. Hartshorn, A. Heimsath, E. Herndon, L. Jin, C. K. Keller, J. R. Leake, W. H. McDowell, F. C. Meinzer, T. J. Mozdzer, S. Petsch, J. Pett-Ridge, K. S. Pregitzer, P. Raymond, C. S. Riebe, K. Shumaker, A. Sutton-Grier, R. Walter, and K. Yoo (2011) Twelve testable hypotheses on the geobiology of weathering. Geobiology, doi:10.1111/j.1472-4669.2010.00264.x

I have several manuscripts in preparation for publication that cover my last two years of research and two of them directly involve Hartwick students and alumni.

Presenting my research at Conferences is important. Abstracts listed below include my work with Hartwick students*):

Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Saccone, L., Smits, M. M., Berner, C., Wallander, H., McMaster, T., Stipp, S. L. S. (2012) Biotite Weathering in Watersheds of the Slavkov Forest, Czech Republic. Abstract#1985 presented at Goldschmidt Conference, Montreal, Canada, June 24-29.

Niedziela*, S. M., Dohnalkova*, A., Greenberg*, K. A., Arey, B. W., Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Shi, Z., Keller C. K. (2012) Weathering in the Rhizosphere Analyzed with Transmission Electron Microscopy. Abstract#2015 presented at Goldschmidt Conference, Montreal, Canada, June 24-29.

Greenberg*, K. A., Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Arey, B. W., Niedziela*, S. M., Dohnalkova*, A., Shi, Z., Keller C. K. (2012) Weathering at the Mineral-Fungus-Bacteria Interface Analyzed with Scanning Electron Microscopy and Helium Ion Microscopy. Abstract#2186 presented at Goldschmidt Conference, Montreal, Canada, June 24-29.

Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Negrich*, K.A, Hassenkam, T., Wallander, H., Stipp, S.L.S. (2011) Biotite weathering in a natural forest setting near Derome, Sweden. Abstract# B33C-0466 presented at 2011 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, Dec. 5-9.

Shi, Z., Keller, C. K., Grant*, M., Harsh, J. B., Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Thomashow, L. (2011) Plant-driven mineral weathering: Hydrochemical effects of nutrient limitation and rhizosphere microbiology. Abstract# B33C-0465 presented at 2011 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, Dec. 5-9.

Niedziela*, S., Greenberg*, K. A., Dohnalkova*, A., Arey, B., Balogh-Brunstad, Z. (2011) Analyzing the Role of Biofilm in Weathering Processes in the Rhizosphere with Various Microscopic Techniques. Abstract# B33C-0467 presented at 2011 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, Dec. 5-9.

Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Saccone, L., Smits, M. M., Berner*, C., Wallander, H. McMaster, T. J., Stipp, S. L. S. (2011) Surface characterization of biotite from a mesh bag field study. Goldschmidt Conference Abstracts, Prague, Czech Republic, Aug 14-19. Mineralogical Magazine, Vol. 75 (3) 475.

Keller, C. K., O'Brien, R., Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Bormann, B. T. (2011) INVITED. Geochemical and ecological models of plant-driven chemical weathering: Insights into the sinks for atmospheric CO2. Mineralogical Magazine, Vol. 75 (3) 1167.

Negrich*, K., Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Hassenkam, T., Stipp, S. L. S. (2011) Characterization of the microbe-biotite interface on field samples from a mine site, Derome, Sweden. Mineralogical Magazine, Vol. 75 (3) 1530.

Smits, M. M., Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Saccone, L., Wallander, H., Colpaert, J. V. (2011) The scale factor in the ectomycorrhizal fungal weathering debate. Mineralogical Magazine, Vol. 75 (3) 1900.

Dohnalkova*, A., Balogh-Brunstad, Z., Keller, C. K. (2011) Correlative Electron Microscopy and Chemical Imaging of Mycorrhizoshperic Biofilms - a Capability Development. Microscopy and Microanalysis, vol. 17, issue S2, pp. 258-259. Doi:10.1017/S1431927611002169.

Watson*, K. M., Parisi*, A., Dudek, J., Balogh-Brunstad, Z. (2011) Effect of vegetation on soil water chemistry at Pine Lake, West Davenport, USA. 241st ACS National Meeting & Exposition, Anaheim, CA. March 27-31.

What is your most valued Hartwick experience?
Allowing me to facilitate hands on experiential learning via off campus field trips and attending conferences.

What do you consider your most important contribution to Hartwick?
I bring a multi-cultural and worldly experience to research and teaching based on my international background and collaborative work with leading institutions in my field, such as Washington State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, US Forest Service, University of Copenhagen in Denmark, Lund University in Sweden, Hasselt University in Belgium, and University of Bristol in UK.

Know the facts.
12The number of off-campus January Term programs planned for 2016.