In Class News

October 26, 2017 at 9:00 am

Geology Students Decipher Minerals in Virginia, Visit Smithsonian

Field lecture by Dr. Keith Milam

Fourteen undergraduate students in Dr. Keith Milam’s mineralogy class traveled to Virginia to visit an urban rock quarry and decipher the rocks that hold clues to the geology of Eastern North America.

For many of the students, this was their first chance to use in the field what they’ve been learning in mineralogy lab.

“Field and lab experiences are integral parts of the education of geological sciences majors and it begins in earnest in GEOL 3150: Mineralogy,” notes Milam. “Students are learning to identify minerals using physical properties in each of the samples they collect. Ultimately, they will also identify those minerals using a petrographic microscope and a technique known as X-ray diffraction.”

As a bonus, the class visited the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to view its world-renowned gem and mineral collection. Exhibits there provide the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the varying physical and optical properties of minerals. Rare and precious specimens provoked a barrage of questions for Milam and helped students to study for upcoming exams. Many of the concepts the students have been learning in lecture were plainly laid out with a number of mineral specimens that would be impossible to provide in the limited class and lab time.

“This is invaluable for the students, as at this point they need to see as many specimens as possible to help them recognize key features that they will continue to use not only in this class, but in their future classes and geosciences careers,” says Teaching Assistant, Jack Seeley, a Geological Sciences master’s student.

Geological sciences major Ethan Gower agrees, “I definitely learn more from actually looking at things than reading a list.”

Students analyzing rocks in the field

The learning doesn’t stop once the class returns to Athens. Class members will use the samples they collected in Virginia to conduct analytical research for a class project in both mineralogy and the next course GEOL 3201: Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology.

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