(Interview and write-up by Kyle Rogers)
Professor Hilairy Hartnett always liked to take things apart when she was growing up. The daughter of an artist and a chemist, Hilairy grew up in Buffalo, New York and always enjoyed science. It’s in her blood. Professor Hartnett’s grandfather worked as a chemist and her father, though he spent most of his career in purchasing, had a chemistry degree.
Hilairy attended an all-girls high school, an experience she said “was great because girls could do everything” and that it was “probably an important part of how I got here.” Interested in becoming an oceanographer, Professor Hartnett spent a summer as an oceanography intern and eventually earned her PhD in oceanography from the University of Washington where her thesis focused on ocean floor sediments. Her post-doc work at Rutgers University focused on sediments in rivers and estuaries while her research now takes on a large scale systems approach to earth systems science. She says she has been steadily moving upstream.
As a woman in science, Hilairy believes in the importance of having women in senior roles and says, “There aren’t enough women in those positions.” She recalled a time at sea where she was the only woman onboard. She said, “I knew that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.”
Professor Hartnett’s research doesn’t only focus on terrestrial systems like the carbon-nitrogen cycle, but she is also interested in the implications that chemistry has on astrobiological habitability.