Martin Pepper first gained local fame in the 1990s when, as a member of the University of Arizona swim team, he won an NCAA title. Ironically, it was the same event his brother Seth won a few years earlier, making them the first brothers to ever win the same championship. Nowadays Pepper, 40, has moved from the pool to the world of geology, where his work pursuing a doctorate from the UA helped land him a gig co-hosting a documentary-style show on Discovery's Science Channel. How The Earth Works, an eight-episode travelogue spotlighting some of the world's most notable geological and biological anomalies, premieres Oct. 9.
How did you get involved in putting together this show?
I have a Masters in Applied Ecology, and (doing a show) it was something I was already wanting to do. I really wanted to be part of a wildlife show, I applied to be on a couple of shows but I never heard back from them after making a short list. Maybe it was because I didn't have a PhD. My brother (Seth) ... he put together a little test reel of me talking about geology. And that was enough to get a camera company interested.
How'd you get the gig?
What's really cool in Tucson ... we have what's called a metamorphic core complex. It's how you get this crazy deformation deep in the Earth's crust. There used to be a higher mountain on top of Mount Lemmon, but it slid over. I did a little explanation of looking at those signs and how the researchers figured it out. I also did a little mockup of a wildlife show that was pretty tongue-in-cheek. It was more humorous and spontaneous. We really just did it in a little pond in a neighborhood. We said we were looking for the Sonora tundra swan, which doesn't even exist.
The Science Channel already has a show called How the Universe Works. Any similarities?
This show that I'm on is kind of like the offshoot of that one, to bring it back to Earth. Ours was done by the same camera company.
What is it about geological findings that would warrant a show about it?
The biggest thing is you get to travel the world to find analogies of what's going on. It takes the world so long to move. If you're trying to find something that happened in the past you have to find a current analogy to explain it. For instance, Pangea. We don't know what really happened, but we see where South America fit into Africa. So, you need to go to rift area in Africa to see what it's all about. That's the beauty of geology, to figure out what's going on in the past you have to run over to somewhere that it's going on today.
The show took you all over the world. If you had to recommend one place to experience what you saw, where would it be?
Iceland, above and beyond anything else. It's the only place in the world where you can see an active spreading center. Right now the Atlantic (Ocean) is growing. As the Atlantic is growing the Pacific is shrinking. Pretty much all geological tectonics is gravity-centered. It allows you to be on land and see it going on. Everything is going on, you can actually see the two plates spreading.
How long did it take you to film these shows?
It was done over a four-month period (between April and July 2012), but I also did a month of research during that. It was pretty intense, but I didn't have any control over the shows. As soon as I was hired, there was a whole team that wrote the ideas and scripts. I was just one of the show hosts. I was the geologist, and Liz Bonnin was the biologist. The enjoyment factor was pretty low with 16-hour days, the tourism aspect wasn't there.
Now that you've been a part of such a show, could you see yourself doing it again?
If a lot of viewers dig it, there's always the option of a second season.
How have you managed to continue pursuing a doctorate?
It's been tough. I lost a good amount of time around that summer. The kind of the beauty of a doctorate is, if you need to take a break they allow windows of opportunity. I've done all my research, I collected all my samples along the length of South America on a motorcycle. I just need to write everything up.
Are you ready to soon greet the world as Dr. Pepper? I sure hope you like the beverage.
I love it. Give me more prune juice!