Eduardo Jacques Martinez had always envisioned himself going into accounting.
But after he completed a stint as a Marine reservist and was preparing to apply to transfer from Long Beach City College to a four-year university, his Veterans Affairs counselor advised him to consider fields that were connected to his passions.
So, after some introspection — a process he refers to as “self-digging” — Martinez opted to apply to UCLA, where he would pursue a major in geology.
“As a child, I always loved to go on outdoor adventures with the family and be surrounded by nature,” Martinez said. “I’m also a single dad, so having my son see and enjoy the outdoors made me even more excited about studying geology.”
Now on the cusp of finishing his undergraduate studies, Martinez, 31, made the most of his final days in labs with classmates, gaining a deeper understanding of structural geology, depositional environments and the rich array of minerals that form in the Earth’s interior. Using a microscope, Martinez can, for example, decipher a rock’s history by analyzing characteristics like its crystal shape, texture, color and luster.
Pursuing a UCLA science degree has come with certain challenges but, appropriately enough, Martinez said he has embraced the mindset that pressure builds diamonds.
“The difficult tasks, those long days working on maps or looking at petrographic microscopes, writing up lab reports — I look back now, and I grew so much from it,” he said. “All those endless nights have helped guide me to my future.”
Along the way, Martinez has relished the opportunity to include 7-year-old Bryce in his UCLA experience. The two have even joined colleagues from the geology department to study rock formations at the Salton Sea and Joshua Tree National Park.
“I want my son to understand a lot of things that I have learned from the sciences and motivate him to learn more about geology,” Martinez said. “It’s beautiful, because while he works on adding and subtracting and I work on my derivatives, he can see we’re growing and overcoming obstacles together.”
In addition to his family and his colleagues at the lab, Martinez’s layered support system includes the faculty of the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences — including Abby Kavner, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of UCLA’s Mineral Physics Lab.
“Eduardo came to class every day with a serious and focused intention to learn, combined with an infectious, playful curiosity,” Kavner said. “He has a deep work ethic and drive, a strong sense of community and a profound ability to connect with others. I look forward to seeing how he develops and deploys his talents and skills to continue making the world a better place.”
Martinez’s UCLA journey also included eye-opening classes outside of his major.
“I took a Chicano studies class, and it blew my mind, because the conversations you have are different than in the physical sciences,” he said. “They dig deeper into your heart and mind, and there are no right answers. North and south campus — the UCLA College as a whole — has really challenged and brought a lot out of me.”
After completing his studies at UCLA, Martinez will begin a master’s program in geophysics at Cal State Long Beach, where he will gain both research and industry experience at Utah FORGE, an underground field laboratory sponsored by the Department of Energy and located in Salt Lake City. Research at the lab seeks to advance enhanced geothermal systems technologies and Martinez’s work there will fully fund his graduate studies.
“Utilizing magma that’s sitting close to the surface, we’re going to determine the permeability of pluton, rock that is crystallized from magma slowly cooling below the surface of the Earth, and how it can boil water,” Martinez said. “That boiling water can create steam, which could be a promising source of renewable energy.”
According to the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, enhanced geothermal systems, also known as human-made geothermal energy, have the potential to provide renewable energy to over 65 million homes and businesses in the U.S.
“I really want to dive deep into and understand the complexities behind renewable energy and how geothermal technology can contribute to an environment that is better for the global community,” Martinez said.
It’s a challenge Martinez said he will relish.
“I’ve done this before, and with my son by my side, I’ll be prepared,” Martinez said. “I know that there’s an end to it eventually — I just have to dig it out.”