planting climate change impact

Research team lands DOE grant to investigate carbon storage in soil

Two Rice University researchers just received DOE funding for carbon storage research. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

Two researchers at Rice University are digging into how soil is formed with hopes to better understand carbon storage and potential new methods for combating climate change.

Backed by a three-year grant from the Department of Energy, the research is led by Mark Torres, an assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences; and Evan Ramos, a postdoctoral fellow in the Torres lab. Co-investigators include professors and scientists with the Brown University, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

According to a release from Rice, the team aims to investigate the processes that allow soil to store roughly three times as much carbon as organic matter compared to Earth's atmosphere.

“Maybe there’s a way to harness Earth’s natural mechanisms of sequestering carbon to combat climate change,” Torres said in a statement. “But to do that, we first have to understand how soils actually work.”

The team will analyze samples collected from different areas of the East River watershed in Colorado. Prior research has shown that rivers have been great resources for investigating chemical reactions that have taken place as soil is formed. Additionally, research supports that "clay plays a role in storing carbon derived from organic sources," according to Rice.

"We want to know when and how clay minerals form because they’re these big, platy, flat minerals with a high surface area that basically shield the organic carbon in the soil," Ramos said in the statement. "We think they protect that organic carbon from breakdown and allow it to grow in abundance.”

Additionally, the researchers plan to create a model that better quantifies the stabilization of organic carbon over time. According to Torres, the model could provide a basis for predicting carbon dioxide changes in Earth's atmosphere.

"We’re trying to understand what keeps carbon in soils, so we can get better at factoring in their role in climate models and render predictions of carbon dioxide changes in the atmosphere more detailed and accurate,” Torres explained in the statement.

The DOE and Rice have partnered on a number of projects related to the energy transition in recent months. Last week, Rice announced that it would host the Carbon Management Community Summit this fall, sponsored by the DOE, and in partnership with the city of Houston and climate change-focused multimedia company Climate Now.

In July the DOE announced $100 million in funding for its SCALEUP program at an event for more than 100 energy innovators at the university.

Rice also recently opened its 250,000-square-foot Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science. The state-of-the-art facility is the new home for four key research areas at Rice: advanced materials, quantum science and computing, urban research and innovation, and the energy transition.

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A View From HETI

The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to Rice University. Photo via

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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