Ahmad Isaac is a sophomore majoring in earth, marine, and environmental sciences and a Chancellor’s Science Scholar within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. He studies sediment transport in rivers and streams.
Q: How did you discover your specific field of study?
A: During the fall semester of my first year at Carolina, I remember reading an email about a group going rock hunting. I joined a team and ventured out into a quarry to pick a mineral called pyrite. It was fun, sparked my adrenaline, and was hands-on. I loved that geoscience packs physical activity, nature, and science into one experience.
Q: Academics are problem-solvers. Describe a research challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it.
A: I have often encountered difficulties with mineral separation. I was struggling to separate the mineral zircon from the whole rock it encompasses. During that time, I remember asking everyone I knew — professors, lab colleagues, friends — for tips, tricks, and advice. I remember looking at YouTube, Reddit, and scientific articles and seeing similar struggles on forum boards. I was close to throwing in the towel.
On a random Thursday evening during the summer, after a lab cleaning “party,” I found an old red and dusty book in the attic that answered all my questions. When I opened it, it had intense scientific jargon, but I understood the methodology. I felt like a chef who translates ancient recipes for mineral separation.
Q: Describe your research in five words.
A: Sediment speed + distance in water.
Q: Who or what inspires you? Why?
A:Nature, family, and good energy. I feel motivated and energized on a sunny day when the weather’s just right. It is almost like the universe is sending out good vibes. With family, I am constantly reminded that there is a village behind me, holding me accountable and keeping me resilient.
Q: If you could pursue any other career, what would it be and why?
A: I would be a historian focusing on Egypt because of the extraordinary archeological experiences and Arabic language. Growing up, I watched a lot of the History Channel documentaries. One that I vividly remember explored a theory that the pyramids were created by aliens. This was my first introduction to Egypt and Arabic culture. Taking classes in high school about ancient history only fostered an even greater appreciation.