Sims Featured on National Geographic Explorers Site

January 31, 2012
Kenneth Sims climbing down a volcano in Nicaragua
During a 2006 research expedition, Ken Sims, a UW associate professor of geology and geophysics, throws a rope over the edge of Masaya volcano in Nicaragua. (John Catto/Alpenglow Pictures)

Kenneth Sims is now in the esteemed company of Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard and famed primatologist Jane Goodall.

He is one of approximately 200 National Geographic grantees (out of thousands) chosen to be featured on the National Geographic "Explorers" site. His interview can be found at

 "You always appreciate being recognized," says Sims, an associate professor in the University of Wyoming Department of Geology and Geophysics. "This recognition is a nice thing from National Geographic."

"He and his work were selected because his research is considered particularly interesting and emblematic of National Geographic grants," says Barbara Moffet, senior director of communications for National Geographic.

Sims surmised that this honor stemmed, in part, from his research last year at Nyiragongo, a 2-mile-high volcano over the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a trip that was largely financed by National Geographic.

Sims said his exploratory nature began almost from the crib. To stop Sims from climbing out when he was 3, his mother told him that he learned to climb in a chicken wire outdoor playpen that was "a cage with a top." As he grew older, Sims hiked and climbed mountains with his father. Eventually, Sims became a professional mountain guide, leading clients up Mt. McKinley, as well as the mountains of South America and Antarctica.

man in climbing gear tossing a rope into a smoking crater
Sims lets fly a rappelling rope near the gaseous edge of the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua. Sims used the rope to lower himself into the vocano's crater so that he could collect gas and lava samples from the walls of the crater. (John Catto/Aspenglow Pictures)

In addition to adventuring miles above the Earth, Sims has viewed the cold, briny depths of the ocean floor and the world's largest volcanic lava lakes (1,100 degrees Celsius) from only a few feet away.

Sims says there is a symbiosis to his physical adventures in the field and his teaching and research.

"It's getting unique samples. I'm getting samples that most geologists cannot access," he says. "Every time I've gone to a field area, I've produced a paper. The field work and adventure is really cool. But I haven't met a good scientist who can't sit down and write a good paper. You have to follow up on the field work."

Sims' next  adventure?

"I am constantly heading up to Yellowstone, studying the water-rock-volcanic interactions into the caldera there," he says. "I'll be flying into the Wind Rivers via helicopter May 1 to get the first snow melt and study how waters move under alpine glaciers. I have recently been funded to study alkaline volcanism in Antarctica and will be heading down there next fall to collect samples from Ross Island and Erebus volcano."

Sims also was featured in the October edition of National Geographic Explorer (student magazine). For that interview, go to A National Geographic story about Sims' Nyiragongo expedition appeared in the spring 2011 UWyo Magazine.

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