Shooting for the Stars

Zachary Keller-Coffey

Zachary Keller-Coffey

Zachary Keller-Coffey ’17 

Ever since falling in love with earth sciences during his First-Year Seminar, Zachary Keller-Coffey ’17 has been combining his interests and getting results. He discusses the geoarcheology and American history knowledge he needed to perform student-faculty research on the geochemistry and archaeology of turquoise mining in New Mexico and more.


Earth sciences.

Clubs and organizations:

Jive Turkeys (ultimate Frisbee) and Geology Club.


The William Vernon Research Prize in Earth Sciences.

Favorite book:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Favorite movie:

Bridge on the River Kwai.

Favorite place on campus:

Kaufman, in the earth science computer lab.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

KOVE tortellini.

On choosing Dickinson:

With the majority of students living on campus and one dining hall, I felt this would give me the close-knit community I wanted.

Proudest accomplishment:

I set up and ran a blood drive at my high school. It was the most successful one in the school’s history.

If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …

… Justice William J. Brennan Jr. I have always been fascinated by the Supreme Court, and getting to talk to the liberal titan of the court would be incredible. I would love to just hear an incredibly smart man talk about the vital issues of our democracy.

On choosing a major:

I fell in love with earth sciences when I took my First-Year Seminar with Professor [of Earth Sciences] Ben Edwards.

Little-known hobby:

I play a tabletop miniature game, Warmachine/Hordes, and I am pretty good at it.

Favorite professor:

[Assistant Professor of Earth Sciences] Alyson Thibodeau. She is amazingly smart, caring and accessible. She was my research advisor, and I could not have done it without her. Also, I would love to study the same things she does one day.

On researching turquoise mining:

I researched the geochemistry and archaeology of turquoise mining, with Professor Thibodeau, during a three-week trip to the American Southwest that included lab work in New Mexico. I have always been interested in history, especially American history. I was able to combine this with geoarcheology, which I also love so it seemed a perfect project.

I was given several samples of turquoise from a Native American archaeological site in the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and I received samples from a museum at a site in Paquime, Mexico. Every turquoise source has its own unique isotopic fingerprint. Using two types of mass-spectrometers at the University of Arizona, the lead and strontium levels could be determined. This showed that while several samples came from the nearest source, some may have come from several hundred miles away!

I learned more than I ever thought I would. I learned about writing reports for contract work, isotopes and using mass spectrometry, and how you can’t always trust what has been accepted for fact for decades.

Plans for the future:

While I know it is not exactly the easiest dream, I would love to be an astronaut one day.

Learn more

Published April 14, 2017