DU Alumni

Alumna Wendy Calvin is a pioneer in geothermal energy research

Wendy Calvin (BS ’83) has a passion for science. Director of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy in Reno, Nev., Calvin believes geothermal energy will help solve the global environmental crisis.

Founded in 2002, the Great Basin Center is part of the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering at University of Nevada, Reno, where Calvin is a professor of geological science. The center develops techniques to explore for and locate geothermal energy: thermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface. Calvin focuses on identifying resources that could be viable and sustainable sources that can be used for electrical power production. She utilizes cutting-edge technology, including remote-sensing data tools such as aerial photography to map geothermal minerals. Remote-sensing data methods and physical surveys over large areas aid in identifying where a geothermal hot spot might be.

Calvin thinks geothermal has a strong future, as long as recognition of the energy source continues to grow. “If we make an investment in strong renewable portfolios geothermal has a very positive future because it’s a solid base-load resource,” she says. “The really nice thing about geothermal for electrical power production is that it’s there all the time and not intermittent.”

Calvin says her years at DU shaped her future career in earth science. “I always had a bent toward science and hands-on activities, but DU was formative for me. I majored in physics, and the faculty was so great and encouraging.”

Outside of her work at the center, Calvin is part of the NASA team for the Mars Exploration Rovers, which landed in 2004, and she worked on several instruments that are on the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbitor, launched to study the history of water on Mars. She also has served on numerous committees for the National Research Council and NASA.

While geothermal research still has a long way to go, Calvin is at the forefront of the field.

“We’re at a crux right now, a real turning point in terms of how we have used energy in the past and moving into a different energy state in the future. Renewables are going to play a critical role in that,” she says. “A lot of the rich resources are concentrated in the western United States, so geothermal doesn’t have a lot of visibility on the East Coast with the movers and shakers in Washington. But there is research that could break it open, and it could have a much bigger impact than it has now.”

Her favorite part of her job is interacting with students. “They’re enthusiastic and motivated, and the future is really theirs. To see them want to build that is really inspiring and keeps me going.”















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