Down-to-Earth Investigations

Earth science students often travel to far-flung places to conduct original research.

Photo courtesy of Ben Edwards

Students conduct original research, near and far

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

When you’re an earth sciences major at Dickinson, the Earth is your library and your passion. During summer, spring and winter breaks, these student-scientists conduct original research that helps us better understand the planet we call home, whether by traveling to far-off sites to work in the field or working in an on-campus lab.

Allison Curley ’19, an earth sciences major with an archaeology minor, counted herself in the first camp when she traveled with Assistant Professor of Earth Sciences Alyson Thibodeau and new graduate Amanda Kale ’17 (chemistry) to the University of Arizona, where the Dickinson team collaborated with a New Mexico archaeologist to study the isotopic composition of archaeological artifacts.

Curley measured lead isotopes in pigments applied to ritual wooden drinking cups from the Andes as part of a collaborative project with curators from the National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian and Metropolitan Museum of Art, while Kale measured lead and strontium isotopes in turquoise artifacts from archaeological sites in New Mexico, building on prior student-faculty work. The group also took a field trip to an ancient turquoise mine on White Mountain Fort Apache Reservation. 

Amanda Kale '17 (left) and Allison Curley '19 performed original research in Arizona with Alyson Thibodeau (not pictured). Photo courtesy of Thibodeau.

Amanda Kale '17 (left) and Allison Curley '19 in Arizona. Photo courtesy of Alyson Thibodeau.

Six students joined Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Kristin Strock and Professor of Earth Sciences Ben Edwards during a four-week summer trip to Iceland. Lydia Fox ’19 and Alyssa Greco ’18, both environmental science majors; Billy Dougherty ’18, Rachael Moore ’18 and Tom O’Donnell ’19, all earth sciences and environmental science double majors; and Madie Ritter ’19 (environmental studies, religion) documented modern and ancient climate change in the region and discussed their research with alumni on a Global Alumni Adventures trip to Iceland

A few weeks later, Edwards traveled to British Columbia with James Fisher ’18 (earth sciences), Hayat Rasul ’19 (earth sciences, mathematics), Amanda Haddock ’19 (earth sciences, environmental science), Billy Irving ’19 (earth sciences) and Will Kochtitzky ’16, now a graduate student at the University of Maine. The group studied glaciers and volcanoes by taking more than 200 gigabytes of aerial video and photos of the region.

Both of these trips were funded by John ’78 and Susan Wyckoff Pohl ’80, who have supported several earth sciences initiatives and have traveled with students and professors studying climate change around the globe.

Students, a professor and a recent alumnus conducted research in British Columbia in August. Photo courtesy of Ben Edwards.

Students conducted research in Iceland and British Columbia this summer with Ben Edwards. Photo courtesy of Edwards.

Before flying above British Columbia in a helicopter with Edwards, Fisher spent many summer days in a lab closer to home, collaborating with Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Peter Sak in Kaufman Hall. That six-week student-faculty research project studied the deformation of the Appalachian Mountains associated with the formation of the Pangea, a supercontinent that existed some 250 million years ago. This research was supported by the Robert Allan Jansen Memorial Student-Faculty Research Fund.

Niomi Phillips ’18 (earth sciences) also conducted summer research on campus. She worked with Marcus Key, Joseph Priestley Professor of Natural Philosophy, on an eight-week research project, “Comparing Methods of Pre-Treatment for Removal of Organic Material for C and O Isotope Analysis of Carbonate Shells,” with support through the DeBlasio Family Faculty-Student Research Fund.

Allison Curley '19 in the lab. Photo courtesy of Alyson Thibodeau.

Allison Curley '19 in the lab. Photo courtesy of Alyson Thibodeau.

Experiences like these are important, says Curley, because of the practical experiences and skills they yield.

“Those two weeks during the summer were jam-packed with learning about instrumentation, lab procedures, data processing and so much more … What I loved most was actively contributing to the many stages of the research process and in this way feeling more like a collaborator than an assistant,” said Curley, who, after researching the topic during the spring semester, forming a hypothesis and analyzing data, looks forward to presenting a poster at the Geological Society of America's fall meeting, along with fellow earth sciences students conducting research this summer, on campus and off. “Both Aly [Alyson Thibodeau] and I get very into our data, so it was really great to share excitement when we saw our results come in.”

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Published August 16, 2017