Vashan Wright’s work brought him from his home in Jamaica (where he studied the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault) to Botswana (where he studied the birth of the Okavango rift) and even to Mars (where he’s studying the seismic properties of subsurface ice). Today Wright is an assistant professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a guest investigator at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he focuses on how tectonic plates, fluid flow, and climate change affect granular media like sand.
Wright was part of a team that created 3D structural images of laboratory and natural sand grains to determine the differences between the two. The researchers discovered that natural sand is more stable and harder because its structure has been rearranged by waves to have a strong horizontal orientation. Wright has expanded his study of sand to the Red Planet, using data from the NASA InSight lander’s seismometer to shed light on what is under the surface of Mars.
Wright is also the founder of Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE), a program that aims to make the geosciences—one of the least diverse fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)—more just and diverse. During the first 4 months of 2021, Wright worked with the URGE leadership team to support more than 4,000 geoscientists in 312 groups (pods) from different laboratories, universities, and government agencies. On the basis of URGE-provided journal articles, interviews with experts, and videos about racism, participants discussed inclusivity and the best ways to navigate challenges to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. The pods also helped draft anti-racist policies for their workplaces.
“URGE is a part of my science— it’s [ongoing] research.”
“We were updating a strategic plan for enhancement of diversity…and many of our deliverables were translated into that,” said Michael Manga, leader of the URGE pod at the University of California, Berkeley.
The URGE team is continuing to assess the material submitted by the pods, and Wright is looking forward to its ongoing work in assessing the challenges of implementing antiracist policies. “I’m really excited to hear from institutional leaders,” said Wright, who is also interested in thinking about how URGE members can effectively communicate with colleges that have not participated in the program.
“URGE is a part of my science—it’s [ongoing] research,” Wright concluded.
This profile is part of a special series in our August 2022 issue on science careers.
—Santiago Flórez (@rflorezsantiago), Science Writer