Geoscience Assistant Professor Payton Gardner returned to his alma mater to teach hydrogeology.

Griz Alumni Return as Geoscience Faculty

Two new faculty members in the University of Montana Department of Geosciences, Payton Gardner and Hilary Martens, started their career on campus as undergraduates.

Payton Gardner, now in his second year as an assistant professor of hydrogeology, graduated with a B.S. in geology in from the geosciences department in 2004. Before returning to Missoula, he earned a Ph.D. at the University of Utah and worked for Sandia National Lab and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

He ultimately couldn’t resist the call of Missoula living and Griz Nation. “When I left UM in 2004, becoming a professor of geoscience at the University of Montana was my dream job,” he said, “but I thought I wasn’t ever going to get it.”

Gardner specializes in the study of groundwater, including the details of how water is exchanged between aquifers and rivers and how long it takes for water to travel through the subsurface. His research has immediate applications for agricultural water users in the state — especially in the context of climate change and the changing mountain snow pack.

A talented violinist, Hilary Martens plays with her bluegrass band during her UM student years. Also pictured are (left to right) Chris DuParri, Ted Germansen and Cameron Wilson.

Hilary Martens, a Missoula native, graduated from UM with B.A. degrees in physics and fine arts (music) in 2008. As an undergrad she started her scientific career working on NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn. She went on to earn advanced degrees on a Marshall Scholarship at the University of Cambridge and University College London, followed by a Ph.D. at California Institute of Technology.

Her research combines the study of local earthquakes, including those that occur throughout western Montana, along with the measurement of the strength of the whole earth determined by measuring its response to loads from ocean tides, seasonal water and even changes in the atmosphere.

“I appreciate the value UM places on a balanced educational environment,” she said, “and I feel privileged to serve now in a rewarding new role as a member of the UM faculty, supporting our current and future students through their own academic journeys.”

She plans to wrap up her first year of teaching at UM by installing seismometers in local hotspots for earthquake activity.

“Hilary and Payton add a dynamic to our program that cannot be quantified,” Department of Geosciences chair James Staub said. “Not only are they outstanding young faculty, but because they went to UM as undergraduates, they really understand the benefits of the UM experience. They are role models, showing our current and future students just how much they can achieve.”

UM geosciences Assistant Professor Hilary Martens, shown here teaching this spring, worked on NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn as an undergraduate student.