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Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

John C. Ayers

Measurement of quartz crystal growth rate using the Electron Backscatter Detector on our new SEM

Years ago I performed a series of experiments of varying duration in order to measure crystal growth rates. While successful for some minerals, I was unable to accurately measure the size of quartz crystals in meta-quartzites I had synthesized at high pressure and temperature because the grain boundaries were not always visible in standard SEM images. With our new Electron Backscatter Detector we should be able to collect images with orientation contrast, i.e., adjacent quartz crystals will have different brightness levels in greyscale images, so we will be able to use image analysis to measure the size of each quartz crystal. Doing this for all of the experiments of varying duration, we should be able to estimate the crystal growth rate.

Lily Claiborne and Calvin Miller

Before and After a Supereruption: Magmatic Insights from the Southern Black Mountains, AZ

We are looking for 1-2 students (juniors or sophomores with at least three core EES courses under their belt by January 2014) to participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. We'll be working with ~10 students from around the country to understand what happens before and after a supereruption, focusing on the southern Black Mountains in Arizona and the spectacular exposure of magmatism that led up to and followed the supereruption of the Peach Spring Tuff during the Miocene. Students can choose from or conceptualize projects that will relate to describing and comparing pre- and post- Peach Spring Tuff eruptive styles and materials through petrologic and remote sensing techniques. Vanderbilt students would join other students and instructors in the field in early January, again in May, and would then return to VU (or possibly go to Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA, depending on the specific focus of the individual project) for the early part of the summer to work collaboratively with the group completing lab work and putting together an abstract for the annual GSA Geological Society of America meeting. Further development of the student's research during the following year into an honors thesis and/or paper for publication will be encouraged, but is not required.

Larisa R. G. DeSantis 

Assessing mammalian paleoecology, paleobiology, and responses to climate change during the Cenozoic

Multiple opportunities are available in the lab to work on existing projects or independently develop new questions.  Currently, potential projects broadly include, the following:

These projects integrate biological and geological disciplines to ask questions of relevance to current climate change.  The majority of paleoecological questions involve stable isotope analyses to assess past climate change and subsequent dietary/floral responses.  Additionally, 3-D dental microwear (microscopic wear left due to the processing of food), mesowear (macroscopic wear), and morphological tools are integrated to assess the paleobiology of extinct organisms.  Opportunities primarily include independently and collaboratively working in the laboratory her at Vanderbilt, but do include potential museum visits and field work.  Please contact DeSantis to further discuss potential projects and/or research opportunities.

Dan Morgan

Geo-archeological investigations at Mawchu Llacta, Colca Valley, Peru

I am looking for 1-2 students who are interested in working on summer research projects that will involve field work inPeru. The goals of this project are to investigate the environmental history of the area to see how it may relate to the creation and abandonment of the archeological site Mawchu Llacta in theColcaValleyin southernPeru. There are a number of opportunities to work on paleoenvironmental geology projects related to these goals. Research opportunities include: dating glacial moraines, climate analysis from glacial history, dating landslides, investigating the activity of an alluvial fan, paleoenvironmental history from lake sediments, igneous petrology, and dating archeological sites. Students who are interested in geomorphology, paleoclimate/paleoenvironment, and archeology are encouraged to apply.

Interested students will need to apply for summer funding through the Vanderbilt Undergraduate Summer Research Program (VUSRP), which is a competitive funding opportunity. Applications for the VUSRP are usually due before spring break. Students interested in the field work should have significant camping and wilderness experience. Students should be physically fit and willing to endure a significant amount of physical discomfort in strenuous conditions. We will be camping at high elevation (14,000-16,000 ft), hiking 6-10 miles a day with heavy packs (30-40 lbs), be exposed to cold temperatures, and not have access to running water or means of communication for weeks at a time. Conversational Spanish language skills, while not necessary, would be beneficial.

Laboratory techniques for cosmogenic isotope dating of rock samples

I am looking for 1-2 students who are interested in learning laboratory techniques for how to physically prepare rock and soil samples for cosmogenic isotope analysis. Interested students can earn credit for EES 289A/B – Directed Study for this work. This work will involve crushing, sieving, and utilizing a number of chemical and physical mineral separation techniques to isolate quartz, apatite, and zircon minerals from the rock and soil samples. Students will learn general lab skills that will translate to any future lab experience. I expect students to work 5-8 hours per week on a project for 1-2 hours of credit. Additional work may include learning numerical techniques to cosmogenic isotope analysis depending on the students’ interest.

General geomorphology, geochronology, paleoclimate projects

As a geomorphologist, I seek to understand how landscapes change through time and how environmental changes are reflected across a landscape. To address these questions, I utilize a variety of geochronologic techniques, including exposure dating with cosmogenic isotopes (such as 10Be, 26Al, and 21Ne) and lichenometry, which allow me to study questions about landscape evolution, the timing of geologic events, and the rates at which geomorphic processes occur. Much of my work focuses on interpreting glacial terrains to determine the timing and extent of past ice ages. My work involves a mixture of field-based studies in alpine areas andAntarctica, laboratory analysis, and numerical modeling. Additionally, I study the sustainable use of natural resources, quantifying environmental impacts using life cycle assessments, and the role of science in environmental decision making.

I am always interested in doing independent (EES291A/B) or directed studies (EES 289A/B) with students who are interested in anything that relates to my general research program. Students who are interested in glacial geology, paleoclimate, paleoenvironment, natural resource use, environmental impacts, sustainability, wilderness issues, and environmental decision making are encouraged to contact me to discuss a research opportunity.