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Research Opportunities for Undergraduates


All undergraduate students are encouraged to undertake a research project as part of the Honors program or an independent or directed study course; a majority of students take advantage of this opportunity. Students work closely with faculty members and other students on research projects. This outside-the- classroom interaction is one of the important by-products of the program in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.


Interested students are encouraged to either email or go knock on the door of professors of interest and talk with them about possible projects!


The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) at Vanderbilt focuses on four research areas:

(i) Solid-Earth dynamics: transport, reaction and evolution of fluids and magmas in the crust;

(ii) Life processes: Earth’s record of life, ecology, and the adaptation to changing climate and environment;

(iii) Surface and atmosphere dynamics: processes governing Earth’s thin sphere of air, water, and sediment that sustains life;

(iv) Coupled human-environment interactions: pursuing the complex and dynamic intersection of Earth processes and human activity.

Ongoing research projects by EES faculty span the entire globe, with field areas in the southwestern United States and Pacific coast, the Appalachian Mountains, Bangladesh, Peru, Brazil, New Zealand, Iceland, Australia, Sri Lanka and Antarctica. Undergraduate students are active participants and contributors to research projects, and this may involve field work, laboratory experiments, and computer modelling.


Current and Recent Undergraduate Research:

A sample of projects that are (or were) supported by the Vaughan Undergraduate Assistantships, National Science Foundation grants to faculty members or the Vanderbilt University Summer Research Program is listed below. Those marked with an asterisk were presented at a technical session at a national or regional meeting of the Geological Society of America or a session of the American Geophysical Union.

Saba Asefa (2016): Investigating a lava dome at Arnes: Silicic magmatism early in Iceland’s history.

Carson Hedberg* (2016): Further investigations of cosmogenic Ne-21 exposure ages of glacial boulders constrained by local bedrock erosion rates in Ong Valley, Antarctica.

Michelle Connor*  (2015): Timescales and conditions of crystallization in the Pokai and Chimpanzee Ignimbrites, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand.

Michael Diamond (2015): Observational constraints on water vapor: climate feedbacks in the tropics.

Katherine Edwards* (2015): Provenance of glacial tills in Ong Valley, Antarctica inferred from quartz cathodoluminescence imaging, zircon U-Pb dating, and trace element geochemistry.

Aaron Hurst* (2015): Dental microwear textures and dental macrowear reveal dietary differences in extant feliforms: Implications for interpreting diet in extinct taxa.

Paige Lambert* (2015): Magmatic conditions and processes recorded in the 1.4- 1.5 Ga granite-rhyolite terrane, St. Francis Mountains, Mo: Insights from zircon trace element geochemistry.

Margaret Jones* (2014): Measurements and modeling of soil creep rates based on vegetation impedance on steep hillslopes.

Kevin Mink (2014): Speleothem records of the last deglaciation from Northern California.

Kylie Wright* (2014): Supereruption time scales: X-ray tomographic analyses of Oruaui pumice from the Taupo Volcanic Zone.


The following projects are the senior honors theses that were presented Spring 2015:

Michael Diamond: Rethinking the "canonical" El Niño

Katherine Edwards: Provenance of glacial tills in Ong  Valley, Antarctica

Aaron Hurst: The role of plucking in the erosion of a knick zone in a mixed alluvial-bedrock river

Paige Lambert: Magmatic reconstruction of a 1.4-1.5 Ga caldera complex: Insights from zircon geochemistry