Undergraduates looking to broaden their academic experience beyond the geology curriculum may have opportunities to participate in faculty research and/or assist with teaching of geology labs. Below are some examples of undergraduate involvement with faculty research.
The Mineralogy of Mexican Magic
Jennifer Lennon, Emily Forsberg, Kimberly Miles
Geological Sciences Undergraduates
Geological Sciences undergraduates Jennifer Lennon, Emily Forsberg, and Kimberly Miles spent an afternoon in the UI College of Science Electron Microscopy lab with lab manager Dr. Tom Williams and Prof. Jerry Fairley. Their objective was to analyze the composition of powder samples used by a Maya brujo (a shaman, or "witch doctor") in curative rituals in Mexico. The students obtained samples of the powder from Dr. Fairley, who received it from a brujo during an ethnohistorical investigation in central Mexico. Using the lab's EDS-equipped Zeiss Supra 35 Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope, the students identified the samples' principal elements (calcium, oxygen, and carbon, with traces of magnesium and potassium). The undergraduate researchers are currently working to determine the mineralogy of the samples using optical microscopy. Possibilities include ground limestone from the Yucatan peninsula or plaster similar to that used to cover buildings and courtyards during the Maya classic and post-classic periods.
Antarctica Research Project
Geological Sciences Undergraduate
Antarctica was not somewhere I expected to visit during my undergraduate experience at U of I (or in my lifetime, for that matter).
Drs. Dennis Geist (Idaho), Karen Harpp (Colgate) and Mike Garcia (Hawaii) developed a field and laboratory-based project through the NSF to study the Vanda dike swarm in the Dry Valleys area of Victoria Land, Antarctica. The overall goal of the project is to understand a phase of Antarctica’s tectonic history where a period of subduction ended and magmatic extension began. Each professor brought an undergraduate student from their respective universities, and we helicoptered and hiked around the desolate icescape recording field observations and collecting rock samples to support various research projects.
My project investigates the conditions at which these dikes formed. I’ve worked in the lab, preparing the rock samples for a variety of analyses (X-ray fluorescence, ICP-mass spectrometry, electron-microprobe) that will be used to determine the pressure/depth at which those dikes were emplaced. For these analyses, I draw upon knowledge gained in undergraduate classes like mineralogy, igneous/metamorphic petrology, and geochemistry. This experience makes those classes far more relatable and has made me realize how much we are learning.
This has been an amazing learning process, and I encourage everyone to seek out any opportunity for hands-on experience. Learning through actual application is the perfect accompaniment to a classroom education.
If you want to know more about the United States Antarctic Program, please visit http://www.usap.gov/.
Nevada Hot Springs Research
Geological Sciences Undergraduate
When I signed up to be a 'research assistant' to spend two to three weeks of the summer in Nevada collecting hot spring data, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had never previously worked with or studied hot springs, so I liked the idea of experiencing something new. As I am approaching my senior year as a geological science major at the University of Idaho, trying to figure out what comes after graduation, I had hopes for this experience to spark any interests I may have in hydrogeology and to give me a glimpse of what to expect in terms of field work for graduate school research or surveying jobs.
My experience did just that. Working with Professor Jerry Fairley and his crew in this field area gave me confidence that I can perform the required duties for field research. This experience is priceless in the sense that the knowledge I gained could never be duplicated in a book or classroom. I developed insight for the code of behavior for hot spring safety and the importance of detailed data collection, along with following the protocols to ensure honest information. My most prized lesson was discovering the value of working with a sincere and hard-working team of people. In our case, our awesome field crew finished an anticipated two week project in just four days, which is valuable on so many levels, including time, money, and resources. I will take these lessons with me beyond my college career and keep them in mind when I am looking for a research area. I'll be sure to pick a location in the remote wilderness far from any 'tremors' but close to military bases to enjoy the free air shows!
Thank you for this priceless experience!
Mercury Deposition in Cascade and Olympic Ranges
Environmental Science Undergraduate
Snowshoeing to sites in the Cascade and Olympic Ranges, senior Environmental Science student Katie Havens, under the direction of Geological Sciences faculty Dr. Jerry Fairley, incorporated adventure into academics as she and a team of researchers compiled data to determine the effect of densely urbanized areas on the mercury concentrations of local aquatic systems. The project, designed by Havens, involved an in-depth study of sample handling and field techniques while simultaneously integrating the exploration of royal snow-covered peaks. Conducted in March of 2008, this research was presented at the University of Idaho Spring Research Expo in April 2008.