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Kimberly Morales



Address: University of Southern California, Department of Earth Sciences

825 Bloom Walk, ACB 302

Los Angeles, California 90089-0740



        Microbes are a large and diverse group of organisms and most are not understood or cultivated, particularly ones that are found in extreme environments. It is necessary to cultivate these microbes to better understand their capabilities and the important roles they play in the global ecosystem. My research entails characterizing microorganisms isolated from subseafloor settings. I have been involved in this project since Fall 2015 under the advisement of Dr. Jan Amend and his graduate student Laura Zinke. The central goal of this project is to cultivate microbes from the Baltic Sea Basin using targeted approaches that are guided by environmental conditions. Specific aims include working with microbes that convert small molecules such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen into biomass. By further studying the microbes carrying out these processes, we can better understand the importance of non- photosynthetic life and the diverse environments in which such microbes inhabit. Additionally, microbes can provide vital information on the environmental conditions needed for life and can elucidate how life began. This information can have applications in other fields such as astrobiology, as we can determine the likelihood of past or present microbial life on other celestial bodies such as Mars or Europa.



University of Southern California, B.A. in Geological Sciences, minor in Environmental Sciences





Geobiology & Astrobiology: Interested in pursing a research path that advances knowledge the understanding of microorganisms and their importance in the search for past or present life on other celestial bodies within out Solar System.

2010 - present



  1. NASA Undergraduate Intern (NASA UI)- Student Fellowship Program, Geomorphology Research- NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory  (2016)

    • Characterized the morphology and evolution of Martian linear dune gullies

    • Tested existing formation hypotheses 

    • Software Experience: GIS and MATLAB 

  2. Undergraduate Student Researcher, Microbiology Research- USC Ocean Sciences Department (2016)

    • Work with microbial samples from the Baltic Sea basin, looking for autotrophs and fermentative organisms that can tell us more about diverse environments, microbial physiology and if life can exist elsewhere in the Solar System. 

    • Technique experience: Anaerobic platting, serial dilutions and PCR

  3. Undergraduate Student Researcher, Stromatolite Research-USC Earth Sciences Department

    • Conducted isotope analysis on stromatolite samples, layered geologic structures that in this case carry the record of ancient climate

  4. Research Assistant, BioSCAN Project, Natural History Museum (2014-2015)

    • Successfully documented the diversity of 34 insect species in Los Angeles 

    • Worked with the project’s entomologists formulate hypotheses about how urban areas affect biodiversity




  1. Vice President, USC Sigma Gamma Epsilon Omega Chapter (Earth Sciences Honor Society) (2016-)

    • Coordinate and host academic and professional development events for students in the USC Earth Sciences program

    • Host service events in the surrounding community to help advance students in STEM fields, while specifically educating about the Earth Sciences

  2. Math Mentor , USC Joint Education Math Distinction Program (2015-)

    • Mentor students of bilingual programs (Spanish & English) at varying math levels to prepare them in their coursework and state-wide standardized assesments.  

  3. Volunteer for Ranger VIII Reassembly Project, California Science Center- Air & Space Department (2015)

    • Worked alongside former JPL engineers, museum staff, and student volunteers to reassemble the model Ranger VIII spacecraft



  • Student Researcher, Field Geology Course (Peru): USC Earth Sciences Department (2016)

    • Studied nutrient cycling in soils along the Andes-Amazon elevation gradient by measuring concentrations of exchangeable cations (Ca, K, Mg and Na)

    • Instrument Experience: Optical Emission Spectrometer (OES)




  1. Austria, Mia and Morales, Kimberly. “Characterizing the morphology and Evolution of Martian Linear dune Gullies.” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory- Student Fellowship Program. August 17, 2016. Los Angeles, CA.

  2. Morales, Kimberly. “The Lost City Hydrothermal Vent Field: The Origins of Life.” University of Southern California Earth Sciences Department. August 27, 2016 Los Angeles, CA.

  3. Morales, Kimberly. “Tropical Alluvial Fans.” University of Southern California Earth Sciences Department. December 2, 2015. Los Angeles, CA.

  4. Morales, Kimberly. “Minerals on Mars-Indicators of Past Life.” University of Southern California Earth Sciences Department. November 12, 2015. Los Angeles, CA.



  • Academic Scholarships

    • 2014-2017 Academic Year: “Minority Scholarship”- The Association for Women Geoscientists

    • 2014-2015 Academic Year: “Friends of Green Cay Nature Center Scholarship”- Green Kay Nature Center

  • Academic Achievements

    • Spring 2015-Spring 2016: USC Dornsife College Dean's List

    • Spring 2016: Member of the year- USC Residential Student Government

  • Research Grants

    • Fall 2016: USC Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR)

    • Summer 2016: NASA Grant for Undergraduate Internship Program

    • Fall 2015: USC Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Fellow  



  • Languages                                                                                                        

    • Spanish: Verbal and literate fluency

    • Italian: : Verbal and literate fluency

    • Portuguese: Verbal proficiency

  • Software

    • GIS: Proficient

    • Python: Proficient

    • MATLAB: Familiar   

  • Certifications

    • SDI Research Scuba Diver  

2010 - present

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