By Lindsay Thomas
As a Binghamton University undergraduate, Alex Nikulin '05 knew what he wanted to major in—until he took a class in geology.
Nikulin entered Harpur College with the intention of majoring in economics. While taking a geology class his freshman year to fulfill a general education requirement, he found his interest shifting.
“My [geology] professor was getting paid to do such interesting things,” the assistant geophysics professor said. “It was a new field for me.”
Nikulin credits the faculty at Harpur College for his success as a student. When he was given the opportunity a decade later to return as an assistant professor, he didn’t hesitate.
“I wanted to contribute back to this school, because it made me who I am,” he said.
As an assistant professor and a faculty advisor for the Freshman Research Immersion Program, Nikulin said he tries to make personal connections with every student. He hopes that attention will interest more of his students into majoring in geology.
“Almost no one comes into undergrad as a geology major,” he said. “The [Freshman Research Immersion] program enables us to approach students in the beginning of their college career, and get them excited about what we do.”
Nikulin added that he hoped the program would help the department grow by showcasing the practical applications of geosciences.
“Geology drives the economy,” he said. “Anything you have, somewhere, a geologist pulled that material out of the ground.”
As passionate about Binghamton University as he is his field of research, Nikulin said as soon as he was offered a position at Harpur College, he withdrew all applications he had sent to other universities.
“For me, the Geology Department was a formative experience,” he said of his time as a Binghamton student. “To get the opportunity to come back here was unbelievable. I felt like it gave me a noble purpose.”
Part of that purpose, he said, draws on his connections to the area. With research projects focusing on seismicity and plate tectonics, he’s heavily involved in local environmental politics.
“I’m focused on fracking,” he said. “Fracking causes earthquakes and essentially recycles wastewater into the earth, so it’s a major issue around here.”
Though a recent Binghamton City Council vote put a moratorium on fracking, the process of extracting natural oil and gas from rock through high-pressured streams of water, the process is still legal in nearby Pennsylvania. Nikulin and his colleagues remain eager to educate their students, and the public, about its environmental implications.
“Several of us are working on a proposal” for a study that would examine the potential adverse effects of fracking, he said. “Right now, it’s illegal here. But politics change, and geology stays the same. People need to understand how that can affect the area.”
Despite his publications and ongoing research projects, Nikulin is proudest of his position as a Harpur College faculty member.
“Harpur College students are really one of a kind,” he said. “Being a professor here is unlike anything else. You get a lot from it—the students teach you more than you teach them.”
Last Updated: 3/1/17