Once a mineral collector, always a mineral collector. His more than 50 distinct types of mineral specimens reflect a love of nature that began when Daniel Niles was a child.
“I was always an outdoors kid, climbing trees and attending Chesapeake Bay Foundation summer camps,” recalls Niles. His volunteer efforts have included promoting environmental and public health for Clean Water Action and advocating for legislation to increase the health of the state’s waterways.
Niles has parlayed his personal interests into the study of geology. “The study of isotope geochemistry and mineralogy is of greatest interest to me,” says Niles, who helped revitalize the university’s Geosciences Club, boosting membership with activities such as trips to Rocks State Park in Baltimore County, the Catoctin Mountains, the Smithsonian Institutions in Washington, D.C., and regional mineral shows.
“At Towson, everyone knows your name. No one falls under the radar,” explains Niles, who credits his close relationships with geology faculty for his success in the classroom and the research lab. “My research positions have helped me pay for my education and gain great experience.”
Niles has participated in two research assistantships in TU campus labs. With Assistant Professor Wendy Nelson, he studied osmium isotopes in unique, magnesium-rich volcanic rocks called “boninites.” These rocks were drilled from beneath the seafloor near the Izu-Bonin Mariana (IBM) volcanic arc system, which extends from Tokyo to beyond Guam. “There is an abundance of these lavas on and near the Bonin Islands south of Japan,” he says. “We are looking at their geochemistry to understand the birth of subduction zones and associated volcanism in this part of the world.”
In another project, as a water research assistant with Assistant Professor Joel Moore, he studied the effects of road salt runoff in the surrounding environment. “Groundwater in areas receiving runoff from roads and parking lots can be as salty as the oceans in the winter time with so much salt used on the roads and walkways,” and that groundwater is what keeps streams flowing when it is not raining, explains Niles. “When salt levels exceed levels accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency, there is a problem.”