Kathrin Schilling

Assistant Professor

My background is originally in Geology, but my past and current research is at the interface of geology, molecular biology, life science, and chemistry.

My research focuses on developing fundamental insights on the fluxes of contaminants and nutrients to extend our knowledge of how to remediate contaminated systems, ensure economic sustainability of critical elements (i.e., selenium and tellurium), and ecological sustainability of essential nutrients (i.e., calcium, zinc, copper and iron).

My research interests are:

  • Impact of human activity (irrigation, mining) on environmental cycling of redox active metalloids – particularly nutrients (selenium) and emerging contaminants (tellurium, vanadium)
  • Effect of microscale microbial and geochemical processes on macroscale ecosystem processes in soil and water
  • Trace metal element biogeochemistry assessing deficiency and toxicity risk based on environmental sources and sinks (i.e., zinc, nickel and iron)
  • Response of microbial-mediated reactions (i.e., iron, carbon) by variation in process parameters caused by climate change

Current projects

Zinc (Zn) deficiency due to insufficient Zn intake affects 1/3 of the world’s population. By 2050 additional 138 million people are estimated to suffer from Zn deficiency due to the reduction of global availability of Zn. Therefore, there is an urgent need to find sustainable ways to combat Zn deficiency in humans which is strongly correlated to dietary Zn intake from crops grown on Zn deficient soils. This project uses a multidisciplinary approach combining stable isotope geochemistry, plant physiology, soil science and ecology to identify low-resource strategies for mitigation of Zn deficiency in soil-crop system.

Funding: EI Frontier Seed Fund


Ruth DeFries (Columbia University)

Lewis Ziska (Columbia University)

Anirban Basu (Royal Holloway University London)

Debal Deb (Center for Interdisciplinary Studies)

Microorganisms shape our environment. Particularly, the soil microbiome facilitates the nutrient supply to plants and controls the fate of contaminants. However, human induced warming of climate may cause unprecedented changes in the physiological and metabolic activities of soil microbiomes. Changes in the diversity of soil microbiomes in turn alters the elemental pools and cycling in soils and has a direct and lasting impact on soil function, ecosystem service and the effectiveness of bioremediation. Non-traditional stable isotope ratios provide a powerful and sensitive tool in tracing and quantifying (bio)chemical reactions and potential metabolic changes. I am combining geochemical and stable isotope analysis with microbial genome sequencing to improve our understanding of microbial metabolisms in relation to warming climate.

Funding: Climate Center Lamont