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Robert A. Gastaldo
Major in Geology
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There is an axiom that states “If it isn’t grown, it originates from the Earth.” And, when you think about it, if it were not for the chemical weathering products that concentrate in soil, there wouldn’t be nutrients available for plant growth. The vast array of geological disciplines focus on planet Earth in all its aspects in space and time. These studies range from resource exploration and extraction to the characteristics and behavior of groundwater, from the history of the planet and of life itself to the understanding of volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, climate change, and the oceans. Such investigations expand into our universe with the study of planets and other extraterrestrial bodies. Geologists play central roles in virtually every aspect of environmental study as well. And, with an increasing societal need for fossil fuels in the coming decades, it is the geologist who explores for and identifies both natural gas and petroleum resources.
Although the Department of Geology at Colby is small, it is one of the oldest geology departments in the nation; classes began in 1833. Geology occupies the ground and main floors of the Seeley G. Mudd Building and shares the science library and computer facilities with the other sciences. Cutting-edge laboratory and research spaces recently have been renovated throughout the department. Extensive rock, mineral, and fossil collections are integral resources used for both course work and independent research. Colby’s science library is a national repository for maps and other publications of the United States Geological Survey, many of which are now also available on-line. This means that students have access to a virtually complete collection of all the sources necessary to pursue any interest they may have in the geosciences.
Faculty interests at Colby encompass a range of geological expertise including mineral deposits and meteorites, paleoecology and paleoenvironmental analysis, glacial and quaternary geology, sedimentation and paleontology, and structural geology. All faculty are active in research and commonly include students in their projects. Students have presented research results at national meetings of the Geological Society of America, held recently in Philadelphia, Houston, and Denver, and the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Because of the faculty’s broad range of interests and activities, the department can offer courses for non-majors who desire a general overview of the field, as well as a broad spectrum of specialized courses for those who wish to pursue more in-depth knowledge. Directed independent study is always an option for the student who desires to pursue an area of knowledge not covered in regular course offerings.
Approximately 36 students are enrolled currently as majors in the various program options offered by the department. A new geology curriculum was initiated in the 2004–05 academic year that opened the curriculum to allow students a broader liberal arts education. The required courses now include: Earth and Environment and Deciphering Earth History, Mineralogy, Record of Life on Earth, Structural Geology, Geomorphology, and a capstone research project. Elective courses that have been offered on a regular basis include Optical Mineralogy, Igneous & Metamorphic Petrology, Plate Tectonics, Glacial and Quaternary Geology, Stratigraphy and Sedimentation, and Past Terrestrial Ecosystems. Students are free to choose upper division geology courses, either on campus or abroad, as electives to fulfill degree requirements. One year of either chemistry, physics, or biology, along with calculus, is required, and the department offers an Honors program. Students who have an interest in obtaining a graduate degree are advised on additional coursework that will enhance their educational background and competitiveness for financial support. For students who may have an inter¬est and want to learn more about planet Earth, but may not want to commit to a pre-professional program, there is a geoscience major degree option.
The departmental faculty encourage and direct students’ independent field and laboratory projects. In addition to class field trips throughout the semester, extended trips in recent years also have been taken during Jan Plan or spring vacation. These include a variety of geologically interesting areas: the Maine coast and offshore islands, Campobello Island and Joggins Island in nearby Canada, the Catskill Mountains of New York, the Mojave Desert of southeastern California, the Hartford Basin of Connecticut, and Bermuda.
The Geology Department and the Division of Natural Sciences have state-of-the-art equipment that is available for student use. Equipment includes research-grade petrographic and stereo microscopes, a Zeiss epifluorescence microscope equipped with image analysis software, a scanning electron microscope with EDAX capabilities, an X-ray diffractometer for powdered mineral identifications, a laser particle size analyzer, as well as rock saws, gravity meters, impact seismograph magnetometers (for measuring Earth’s magnetic field), and computer facilities that include Macintosh, PC, and Unix machines. Coring equipment is available to drill wells for groundwater at selected sites and for coring sediments from lakes and bogs. The departments of geology and chemistry share a research boat (funded by the National Science Foundation) that is designed to conduct real-time analyses in Maine lakes. The department maintains two groundwater-monitoring wells beneath the new Olin Environmental Science Center, in addition to several well fields in nearby bogs.
Recent Colby geologists have enrolled in graduate programs at Yale, Dartmouth, Mackay School of Mines (UNR), Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Penn State, Ohio State, Duke, Vanderbilt, Cornell, Louisiana State University, and the universities of Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Idaho, Oregon, Oregon State, Texas, Vermont, and Maine, among others. Several have entered the Peace Corps and Teach for America. Colby graduates are engaged in a variety of professional activities, including oil and mineral resource assessment, mining engineering, environmental consulting, land-use planning, groundwater monitoring and evaluation, teaching, and government research and regulation. Others with a geology degree have chosen medical school, law school, graduate study in the fine arts, and employment in financial analysis for major investment firms.
Please visit our Web pages (http://www.colby.edu/geology) where you will find information about major programs, our faculty, and a synopsis of what other alumni are doing. Questions about the program, or why you should consider a major in geology, can be e-mailed to: email@example.com.