Resources Available to Students

at the Department of Geology,
Colby College

The X-ray diffractometer (XRD) is used to identify fine-grained minerals such as clays and powders.

The scanning electron microscope gets you up close and personal with tiny things!
Casey Swan '96 and Mike Soares '98 study thin sections in optical mineralogy.
The Department of Geology is housed in the S. G. Mudd Science Building, pictured above, and occupies all the main floor and most of the ground floor. Newly renovated classroom and laboratory space on the ground floor includes a classroom and laboratory for structural geology and hydrogeology/geochemistry, and one for geomorphology and glacial/Quaternary geology, as well as the Departmental collection of geologic maps and specialized topographic sheets. A third special lab in Geology is dedicated for storage and study of sediment cores collected in student and faculty research.
A complete set of U. S. topographic maps is housed in the Natural Sciences Library in the F. W. Olin Environmental Science Building; Colby is a national repository for these maps as well as other U. S. Geological Survey publications, so we have a virtually complete set of everything available for student use. Additional laboratory space in the Olin Building is dedicated to palynology & paleoecology research; this building also houses, in the basement, two groundwater monitoring wells.
On the main floor are the department and faculty offices, plus classrooms and laboratories for the introductory classes (physical processes of planet earth & interpreting earth history); mineralogy, optical mineralogy and petrology; paleontology (history of life on Earth) and sedimentation/stratigraphy; plus "the lounge" (see below) and student and faculty research areas, including the XRD (X-ray diffractometer) and SEM (scanning electron microscope) labs, shown in the top two panels at the left. The editorial office for the professional journal Palaios is the only office on the ground floor. The XRD is the newest and most capable instrument of its kind in the state of Maine.

The Department also has extensive rock, mineral, and fossil collections for study, and a number of specialized instruments used in classroom and individual student research. The Rigaku powder X-ray diffractometer pictured above is used to determine the identities of fine-grained minerals such as clays, as well as of powdered unknowns that could not be easily identified in larger grains. The computer system on the XRD was completely renovated in 1998, and now includes over 8000 reference patterns against which unknowns may be compared. Students are introduced to this equipment, and learn to use it, in the sophomore-level course in optical mineralogy. Seniors commonly use this in their independent research projects as well.
Students also have access to the College's transmission and two scanning electron microscopes. One of the two scanning electron microscopes is shown above. This particular instrument, housed in the Department mineral analysis laboratory with the XRD, has electron backscatter capabilities. This allows one to retrieve information on the elemental composition of specific mineral grains. This often provides important clues to the history of that mineral and the enclosing rock, which in turn tells a great deal about the geologic history of the area from which the sample came. It can also be extremely useful in evaluating ore samples for the relative abundance of valuable metals, when such might be too fine-grained for more traditional petrographic analysis.
The setting of the College also provides an intriguing area for field study. All geology majors are expected to work on independent projects, usually as seniors, and to develop ways of actively examining and interpreting their observational data, based on both field and laboratory studies. Recent projects have included studies of physical groundwater hydrology and groundwater geochemistry, modeling of contaminant hydrogeology, evaluation of ores in an active mineral exploration program, macro- and microfossils in local postglacial marine sediments, vegetation and basin history of ponds in both Bermuda and Maine, and the search for some of the earliest land animals in northern Maine. The Department has an ongoing program of study in Bermuda in which three members of the faculty are actively directing student research.
In the bottom photo in the panel above, Casey Swan '96 and Mike Soares '98 are studying thin sections in optical mineralogy; the image they are viewing can be seen on the high-resolution monitor of the CCTV (closed-circuit television) equipment connected to the microscope, one of two microscope-mounted CCTV units owned by the Department and used in classroom demonstrations. For demonstrations to larger student groups, the CCTV unit can be connected to a 33" large-screen monitor.

Mike Terkla '02 studies in the Lounge.
Laura Wilcox '01 practically lived in the Lounge her senior year.
The Lounge is a popular area for studying and "hanging out."

Rocky Severs '02 at work in a lab.
A quiet place to study is provided in "The Lounge," a comfortable interior room which is occasionally used for small, upper-level classes and seminars, group discussions, and Geology Club meetings, but mostly general studying, as shown at the right by Carolyn Lindley '02, Beth Dushman '03 and Jon Allen '03; Mike Terkla was across the table and is shown at the left.
This room also is home to three Departmental iMac computers, which carry specialized geological software as well as traditional word-processing, statistical and graphics capabilities. A flat-bed scanner allows students to incorporate photographs or other graphics into papers or presentation materials, and is accessed from a new Dell OptiPlex GX-100 PC that also resides in this room. The Lounge also houses both color inkjet and black-and-white laser printers accessible from any departmental computer; a Natural Science Division Hewlitt-Packard oversize printer (housed in the Department of Chemistry labs down the hall) allows printing of documents up to 36" x 54" in size.
The introductory geology laboratory room is equipped with iMac computers, while other geology labs are equipped with Windows (Compaq and Dell) PCs with specialized software.
Laura Wilcox '01 (lower left) was one of the semi-permanent residents here last year, while Rocky Severs '02 (bottom right) worked in a research lab across the hall and is now himself one of the departmental stalwarts. (Laura is now a graduate student in hydrogeology at the New Mexico Institute of Technology.) Colby geology students have access to both NetScape Navigator® and Internet Explorer® to search for geological images and resources available on the World Wide Web.

Fieldwork is an integral part of many courses and introduces students to many aspects of local and regional geology. Multi-day off-campus trips are also regularly scheduled to localities and areas of particular geologic interest, such as the Hartford Basin of Connecticut, the Mohawk Valley of New York, or Campobello Island in New Brunswick. At the left, the fall, 1997, mineralogy class is shown with the operators of the Berry Mine, a gem-producing mine in a western Maine pegmatite. Maine is one of the premier areas for exotic minerals in the U.S., and mineralogy classes take full advantage of this wealth of opportunity in our own back yard. Some of the very first tourmalines found in Maine pegmatites were discovered in 1820 by Ezekial Holmes, Colby Class of 1824, who returned in 1833 to become a faculty member at his alma mater.
  • Check out some other Colby Field Trips!
  • Professional societies in Geology, as in other disciplines, serve to bring people together and provide means for communication throughout the discipline, via journals and other publications, and by regular meetings. Many also provide special scholarships or fellowships to help students with their educational expenses. This is a major means by which students can interact with professionals in the discipline, and to learn about what kinds of opportunities are available in the "outside world." In recent years, Colby students have been increasingly presenting the results of their research at regional and national meetings of the Geological Society of America (GSA) and have been actively recruited by premiere graduate programs around the country as a result.
    All Colby Geology faculty belong to at least several professional organizations, and all students are particularly encouraged to join the principal general geological organization, the Geological Society of America (GSA); student memberships in GSA are also at extremely reduced rates. (Click on the icon at right for additional information on GSA.) Students interested in GSA membership information may talk to any member of the faculty, or Robert A. Gastaldo, Department Chair. The Geological Society of Maine is a state organization that holds an annual spring meeting featuring student research in the state, and which provides a forum for interaction between those working in the geology of Maine.
    The Department is an institutional member of the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) and an Academic Associate of the American Geological Institute (AGI). Women students are particularly encouraged to at least investigate the AWG by clicking on the icon at the left; student memberships are $25 per year. Any students interested in membership information for AWG (whose membership is NOT restricted to women) may also contact Robert E. Nelson, AWG member and campus sponsor at Colby.

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    Last modified 3 August, 2001