Ph.D. students receive funding for their research from many state, federal and private sources, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). And their work gets passed on. For example, using a grant from NSF, doctoral student Katelyn Watson recent- ly conducted a workshop for local high school teachers on how to build low-cost meteorological stations for their class- rooms.
Dr. Jim McNamara
“Earning a Ph.D. in geosciences gives a student an opportunity to become a specialist and leading expert in our quest to understand how Earth works. Along the way, students will develop skills to enable them to pursue careers in research, teaching, and industry focused on earth and environmental science.”
– Jim McNamara
Most people can pinpoint moments in life when the majesty of the natural world leaves us mute with awe – watching Old Faithful erupt, or seeing the Grand Canyon, aurora borealis or a glacier for the first time. Students and professors in the geosciences program turn this natural awe into research projects exploring our natural resources, energy, geology and the environment.
For instance, in the past academic year Dr. Dorsey Wanless, an assistant professor of geosciences who studies the chemistry of “young rocks” recently produced by volcanoes, has taken two Ph.D. students into the field with her to collect samples. The catch? The samples were two miles below the ocean’s surface.
“If you want to understand the earth’s interior, the ocean is the best place to do that,” Wanless explained. “The magmas that are formed there don’t interact with the thick continental crust, and the ocean quenches those rocks very rapidly, so the signatures are frozen into rocks fairly quickly.”
Wanless currently mentors two undergraduate students who are conducting their senior projects on rocks, and Wanless and doctoral student Darin Schwartz recently completed a 40-day research cruise to collect samples of rare popping rocks — gassy seafloor basalt created when magma rises to the surface of the ocean floor.
Popping rocks lie at the bottom of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and could answer longstanding questions about the composition of Earth’s mantle. Because the rocks cool rapidly, they retain gasses that are released with a distinct “popping” noise when they are raised to the surface.
The samples provide evidence linking geologic processes to the formation and evolution of our atmosphere and ocean. The only previous samples of popping rocks came from a 1985 Russian dredge of the ocean floor.
Working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Wanless and Schwartz collected the rocks by diving about two miles below the surface in a submersible known as Alvin.
“Our goal was to go back and try to find those rocks and figure out if this was a strange phenomenon or fairly com- mon, and furthermore, what did it tell us about the inside of earth?” said Walness. “It was very exciting. We were able to find several locations of popping rocks and were able to map their geologic distribution on the sea floor. All of the rocks in specific mounds were very volatile.”