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The School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt

Chris Vanags, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Center for Science Outreach

vanagsEducational Background

University of Sydney: 2007 
Hydrology and Catchment Management

On Teaching

Environmental educators are faced with a general lack of knowledge and an even deeper lack of understanding of environmental issues. This is often attributed to both cognitive limitations and social dogma. In order to meet these challenges, I try to teach students how to think about the environment. I feel this can be achieved through problem-based learning which focus on relevant and exciting environmental topics.


Following from my general education in geology, I have focused on soils and hydrology in my postgraduate courses and research. My current interest is in looking at how changes in the physical properties of soil affect water flow on a watershed scale. These differences are typically a function of several factors, including the parent material (geologic), soil formation processes (pedogenic), and human-induced changes (anthropogenic).

The driving force behind this research comes from our need to properly manage groundwater resources, ensure environmental quality, and maximize our water use efficiency for irrigation purposes. The gray in this field occurs where soil and hydrology physically connect, in the variably-saturated vadose zone. Vadose zone hydrology is an exciting area of study because of the complexity of variably-saturated flow, the unique chemical reactions which take place there, and the dynamic nature of the medium. To better understand these processes and to predict the impacts that humans have on the flow of water and contaminants into the underlying water table, I have relied on geophysical instrumentation and numerical modeling techniques. This interdisciplinary work draws on the expertise of geologists, soil scientists, ecologists, and archaeologists.

The incorporation of my research into the School for Sciences and Math will be to improve student awareness of watershed management, give them a basic understanding of indirect measurement and instrumentation, and an appreciation for the numerical approximation of complex processes.



State Outstanding Earth Science Teacher (Tennessee), 2012. National Association of Geoscience Teachers

Award for Excellence in Earth Science Teaching, 2012. The Geological Society of America

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