EKU professor wins Fulbright for research in Sicily

While a doctoral student, Dr. John White discovered the geological wonders of Italy, especially Sicily.
While a doctoral student, Dr. John White discovered the geological wonders of Italy, especially Sicily.

RICHMOND, Ky. — When he first began studying geology 25 years ago, Dr. John White thought he would spend his academic career focused on the Big Bend area of his native west Texas.

Then, while a doctoral student, 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. Much of his work has been conducted in collaboration with Dr. Silvio Rotolo and several graduate students at the University of Palermo. For three months in 2021, he plans to collaborate with Rotolo 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,” White said. “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. 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.”


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Since joining the 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.

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.”

White said his Fulbright experience will enhance student learning in at least three EKU courses that he regularly teaches, adding that materials produced and collected during the research will be used to develop laboratory exercises and provide undergraduate geology majors with senior thesis projects. He also plans to develop opportunities for EKU students to study abroad in Sicily and southern Italy.

White earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in geology from Sul Ross State University and his doctoral degree in geology from Baylor University.

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