Today at Berkeley Lab

Flows in Hydrogeology: EESA Researcher Bridges Two Cultures

by Keri Troutman

Robin D. López, a Research Associate in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Area, uses music as a way to integrate scientific culture with urban culture. He recently presented his original hip-hop music video, “Flows in Hydrogeology,” at the Geological Society of America 2016 Conference. López, a lifelong resident of Richmond, was inspired to create the video as a way to connect with the youth he mentors at Richmond-based nonprofit Metas. “Flows in Hydrogeology” was so well received that it resulted in López accepting a speaking engagement at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference for their Bright STaRs program.

As a result of his video’s exposure, López has been extended an opportunity to sit on a board for a research project geared towards addressing diversity in geoscience, which is a cause close to his heart.

“There is so much untapped potential in these communities that are often overlooked and disregarded, and I serve as evidence to that,” López says. “I’m fortunate to have a place like Berkeley Lab that supports bridging gaps and fostering diversity.”

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López first came to Berkeley Lab in 2010 as an intern in the Community College Internship (CCI) program, which is run by the Lab’s Workforce Development and Education office. After completing a Summer Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program in 2012, he was hired as a Student Research Assistant in the Earth & Environmental Sciences Area (EESA). At the same time he transferred to San Francisco State from Contra Costa College to complete his Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

López is currently finishing up his Master’s degree in Water Resources Engineering at San Jose State University, and he hopes to pursue a Ph.D program in Hydrology/Hydrogeology. López’s research interests in the field of hydrogeology have lately been focused specifically on cryo-hydrogeology, or cold region hydrogeology research, where researchers look at subsurface interactions coupled with climate change. He has been working on the NGEE-Arctic project, analyzing permafrost cores for physical properties.

lopezkids“It’s been so fun,” López says. “I’m essentially playing with dirt while helping to advance scientific understanding of climate change in the Arctic.

Growing up in Richmond was challenging, López says— there was a distinct lack of guidance and resources to succeed, a damaged educational system, and urban temptations. Aside from all of this, López says his main focus was simply survival. There was little time to pursue his dreams.

“I was always interested in science and engineering growing up,” says López. “But unfortunately, for most of my youth, opportunities to pursue my interests were almost nonexistent.”

The impetus to really pursue his scientific education came when López lost his best friend, Mark. “Mark lived a life full of energy and creativity as an outlet for nuances we were subjected to in Richmond,” López says. “Although his life was cut short, his death empowered me to seek more out of life; I would have to say even in death, my best friend serves as a mentor.”

Mark was López’s musical mentor as well—the two friends spent countless hours in high school writing and producing hip hop/rap music, weaving in lyrics that reflected current events and their feelings about the world they were living in. López’s hydrogeology video was the first musical project he’s completed since Mark passed away. López engaged kids from the Richmond nonprofit Metas and his own nieces and nephews to star in the video.

López has been volunteering and mentoring for Metas since 2011. He’s now the 4th/5th grade teacher. “I got involved because I decided I need to do something to change how the youth think of themselves and the world they live in” he says. “I’m always amazed hearing the many great success stories coming out of Metas, and how students from some of the most disadvantaged and dangerous communities are now going to college because of their involvement with the program.”

López hopes that his most recent music video project is just the first of many. “Perhaps this could result in a greater project among scientists and musicians alike to make our research more transparent and accessible, and experiment with various genres to connect with more young people.”

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