Malcolm Gooding has spent hundreds of hours in the field. He has worked with microbiologists to test the concentration of E. coli in local water systems. He has done dye tracing with hydrologists in a karst area to see how and where the water traveled. He has worked with geologists to gather water samples to prepare for various analyses.
And, he recently presented a poster, “Most Effective Methods in Identifying, Etching, and Dissolving Limestone,” at the AAPG Eastern Section Meeting.
Malcolm Gooding is 13 years old.
The 8th-grader from Lexington, Ky. participates in the local 4H program where he has been the Overall Grand Champion in Geology at the Kentucky State Fair for four years straight. He’s a life-long Boy Scout who is only one level from becoming an Eagle Scout. He also plays viola in the Morton Middle School band.
At such a young age, his resume is already more impressive than most adults’. But when asked about his hobbies outside of all these activities, the answer couldn’t be more normal.
“Does sleep count?” he asked. “If so, then sleep, television and food. Oh, and Pokemon.”
It Runs in the Family
Malcolm comes from a family of scientists — overachievers, some might say. His grandfather, Patrick Gooding, an AAPG Member and career geologist who immigrated to the United States from the Port of Trinidad, Spain on a track scholarship in 1971, has given him the exposure to opportunities that most kids don’t have.
“I’ve been with the Kentucky Geological Survey research department at the University of Kentucky for 39 years,” said Patrick. “My grandson, Malcolm, has been on several Geological Society of Kentucky field trips and spent many hours in the field with me and at my office since he was very young.”
He couples his role as grandfather with his role as educator, providing his grandchildren with learning experiences outside the classroom.
“I’ll wake them up at 1:30 a.m. while on vacation in Florida to see turtles laying eggs or to see a space shuttle take off. They know that when the car stops, it is time to get out and examine the rocks and collect samples even though they are half asleep,” he said. “I seize every opportunity to take all my grandchildren to visit our wonderful National Parks. They participate in hikes, ranger programs, museum visits, park activities and the Junior Ranger Program.”
Malcolm has been to 35 national parks over the years with his grandfather. A couple of his favorites are Mammoth Caves and Carlsbad Caverns.
“I like caves. I like the dark, gloomy feel — all the high edges, the cave cliffs, that there is little vegetation.”
His first cave experience was at Climax Caves in Kentucky with his Boy Scout troop. Most of his fellow Scouts approached the caves with trepidation. Not Malcolm, though.
“As long as I can remember, I have been going on expeditions. So, I’m definitely not scared of nature,” he said.
For Patrick, these adventures with his grandchildren aren’t just learning opportunities; they have deeper meaning.
“We go to see volcanoes and sand dunes, or the Grand Canyon, which I have been to many times and studied while I was in college,” he said. “But to stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and show my grandchildren for the first time — experiencing the beauty of it — it’s always exciting for me and my wife.”
Never Too Young
Recently, Patrick found a project for his grandson closer to home. Patrick has been a Member of AAPG for 34 years and is currently serving his seventh year as a member of the House of Delegates. Lexington was the site for the 2016 Eastern Section Meeting, which gave Gooding the opportunity to mentor his grandson for a project.
“When he’s at my office, he’s always looking for new projects. We started talking about how geologists always use one particular acid when working with limestone. He wondered if there were better alternatives,” he said.
Malcolm’s study, titled “Most Effective Methods in Identifying, Etching, and Dissolving Limestone,” required at least 150 hours of collecting, slabbing, weighing, mixing acids, testing, photographing, preparing graphs, analyzing the data and reaching conclusions.
“I ended up doing 164 samples, looking at the effects of different acids on different types of limestones from all different ages. The results were pretty cool,” said Malcolm.
He was accepted as a presenter at the AAPG Eastern Section Meeting — perhaps one of the youngest presenters ever — where he explained and defended his work to those in attendance.
“I would send people over to test him and his knowledge. It’s good practice for him and he performed very well,” said Gooding. “But his results are also very beneficial for the geological community.”
Malcolm knows that the work he does is significant and that understanding how the environment works is important for all of us.
“Like when I worked on the E. coli study, I knew it was important for people to know if their water was safe. If they don’t know these things, they could end up harming themselves or others by going places that are unsafe,” he said.
Malcolm visits his grandfather every weekend, where they spend time outdoors exploring, studying and always looking for their next project.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a little down time.
“When I’m with my grandfather, I don’t get to play video games. He loves science and loves going outside. But we still spend a lot of time on the couch watching television together,” he said.
Now, Malcolm’s sister has become interested in competing in the 4H geology section like her brother. Patrick doesn’t allow his grandchildren to just go out and buy the rocks and gems needed to become a grand champion, like some competitors do. Instead, he takes them directly to the source to collect them.
“So, it looks like I have to start all over again with her,” he laughed, “and I couldn’t be happier.”