Perspective Online

Geology Experiential Learning Trip Takes Students to New Heights

by Bonnie Butcher

Geology Experiential Learning Trip Takes Students to New HeightsThe University of West Georgia sent a team of geology majors on an experiential learning trip to Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. Fourteen undergraduate students collected samples for research from the Leucite Hills, the Thomas Range, and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Nine of the students went on to present their research in November at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Baltimore: two on the Leucite Hills lamproite; five on the Thomas Range; and two on the pegmatite and hydrothermal veins in granite.

Their journey began in Boulder, Colorado then continued to Rock Springs, Wyoming, to Delta, Utah, then returned to Colorado Springs. Students were able to conduct hands-on fieldwork under the supervision of Dr. Curtis Hollabaugh.

Red beryl is one of the world’s rarest gemstones, found in only a few places including the Thomas Range and Wah Wah Mountains of Western Utah. The gemstone is more uncommon than diamonds and more valuable than gold, selling for about $10,000 a carat. These minerals occur in young volcanic rocks known as Cenozoic topaz rhyolites. Senior Nick Camper conducted research on a variety of samples from this area, including parts that contain the extraordinary red beryl.

Nick’s research involves comparing these samples to samples of a vapor phase non-topaz rhyolite from Garnet Hill, Nevada, as well as Danburg granite. These rhyolite samples were examined using Induced Coupled Plasma (ICP) and scanning electron microscope (SEM).

When Nick compared the host rhyolite of gem quality red beryl against the average composition of rhyolite, he found interesting results. The gem quality red beryl rhyolite tended to spike in manganese and iron, while depleting in magnesium, calcium aluminum, and titanium.

Geology Experiential Learning Trip Takes Students to New HeightsThe question now is whether these results are significant or not. Nick hopes to explore the following questions: What exactly is controlling the patterns? What does it mean? Can this information be applied in finding more potential red beryl sites? As Nick said, “Now the true fun of science begins.”

Seniors Kristen West and Will Gosnell conducted research with samples from the group’s most difficult hike to Sentinal Rock, Colorado. Variations of feldspar were collected from 150 yards below the base of Sentinal Rock. This area is part of Pike’s Peak Batholith and is a pegmatic, graphic granite. Their main focus with this research is to explore the several different variations of feldspar they collected.

Kristen and Will worked in UWG laboratories using thin section analysis, SEM, and an X-ray powder diffraction (XRD) analysis to study their findings. The most interesting of these samples were microline, quartz, and mica. They also identified fluorite and zircon in thin sections of the rocks.

Through examination, Kristen and Will were able to observe the transition of these samples from graphic granite to open pocket with fine crystals of amazonite, smoky quartz, mica, and goethite. In some minerals they observed a slight distortion of crystal faces and striations, caused by a coating of hematite.

Observation of striations led to detection of upward growth and variation in direction in several microcline samples. This is present due to an overabundance of lead in the crystallization process. This formed a stunning blue-green hue in many crystals, known as amazonite. Students were able to identify where these alterations took place by observing other varieties that exhibit a slightly more dull color.

Kristen, who presented at the GSA meeting in November, is grateful for the experience of this trip.

“In my opinion, when someone is trying to learn any kind of science, it is extremely helpful to have the opportunity to go out into the field and physically see what it is that you’re studying,” she said.

Geology Experiential Learning Trip Takes Students to New HeightsSeniors Jacob King and Ashley Jenson’s research involved comparing flow banding and porosity to indicate a direct correlation promoting crystal growth in topaz rhyolites between two locations. There is much data to analyze and process in order to make an interpretation. These students are actively working on these research findings.

The students who attended the GSA meeting were given the chance to enrich their experience in the field. Nick said he looked forward to hearing about the cutting edge ideas in other sub-disciplines of geology.

“The main opportunities of presenting are that you get to hear new paradigms on your research, which can help you better understand what you’re trying to learn about,” Nick said. “You also get to meet people from graduate schools who may be doing similar research as you, which gives you opportunities.”

This experience was a great opportunity for students to conduct hands-on fieldwork in their area of study. Many aspire to hold careers in geology, from mineral exploration, to park rangers, to research and academia. This trip was a supportive steppingstone in the direction of these students’ aspirations.


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Posted: January 5, 2016

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