Published: May 20, 2016
Dr. Linda Smith is the co-founding Director at Filters For Families, an organization which provides water filtration systems and safe water education to rural communities. Dr. Smith also works as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver demonstrating her passion for education both internationally and domestically.
What is your earliest memory of wanting to be a scientist?
My father was working on a second degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Oklahoma State when I was 7 and 8 years old. A few blocks from our house there were huge gravel pits, and I used to go there after school to explore the pits and collect rocks. I wondered why there was gravel in that area. I think the "why of things" in my environment was a big part of my decision to study Geology.
What’s the most exciting part of your work?
When communities we work with take on an activist role in solutions for safe drinking water. Working with our team to design better filters for different needs in communities in Nepal and Pine Ridge, SD. We worked with a local village in Rauthat district to revitalize their wetland, and after the training they took on the responsibility of preserving the fish and wildlife in the wetland; a year later twelve 4-foot-tall cranes were nesting in the surrounding the area. It was so beautiful.
When you encounter frustrating situations or dead-ends, what keeps you going?
At times I have to pull away from Nepal to get a clearer perspective of our true goals. It helps to quiet my spirit, and go a bit slower and remember this is their country, not mine, and their perspectives are important to consider.
What’s the strangest place/situation you’ve been?
We were three geologists working in the Gorge of Nile. During one mule train trip down a tributary we stayed at a local residence's round home. In the morning we hiked from the village to the river with six men who carried guns. As we finished analyzing the rocks we heard the men shouting and running in all directions, we waited until [they] deemed it safe to walk back through the sparsely treed jungle before heading up the river bank. The men had found a boar, killed it, sliced part of the meat into small triangle pieces hanging from the sinew and were cooking it over a fire. I think it took only 10 minutes from kill to dinner.
Where do you see your work/independent usage of geoscience taking you?
I believe the Arsenic Removal Filter project will be self-sustaining in three years. I would like to take the model to other countries so more people suffering from arsenic poisoning will have safe water. My dream would be to have a properly managed wetland in the arsenic areas. The wetland would supply safe water and electricity using pico-power for local communities.
How have your friends/relatives who are not scientists reacted to your career change?
My friends are amazed when they hear me give talks about our work, as I usually don't talk about life in Nepal in personal conversations very much. My family and some friends have helped out in our field projects in Nepal. They're very supportive and have raised funds for some of the projects.
What advice do you have for students considering a career in the Earth and space sciences?
It's so exciting, there are unlimited frontiers and opportunities to use technology for research and philanthropy. I think Earth Scientists are awakening to opportunities in their field areas. We travel the world and have amazing research experiences in remote areas, people in these areas need help with water, mosquito nets, etc., so why not add a bit to the budget to help these communities.
When you were earning your geology and geoscience degrees, what did you think you would do with them?
I thought I would be a professor and do carbonate research in modern and ancient environments. I ended up spending 10 years in the oil industry working on stratigraphic modeling and sequence stratigraphy before starting the non-profit work.