Geoscience Studies at LSU – The Pet Rock Project and Course-Embedded Research

It’s not common for a sophomore in college to get the chance to use sophisticated imaging and analysis equipment like an electron microprobe so early in their studies. That sets Louisiana State University apart, where undergraduates in the geoscience program are immersed early on in geological research with hands-on experience using the EPMA, which stands for Electron Probe Analyzer, often more commonly just called a microprobe

Professors Darrell Henry, PhD and Professor Barbara Dutrow, PhD are both integrating the EPMA in their classes at LSU. They recently presented a poster on course-embedded research and scientific communications at the Geological Society of America 2017 annual meeting.

Dr. Dutrow explained that two courses currently integrate the microprobe into the undergraduate curriculum.

“The first class is a sophomore level Mineralogy Class, a required class for our majors. Two years ago, I received money to give all of the 62 students experience on the microprobe (so far, 17 in 2018). Each of the groups obtained the chemistry on a mineral and quantitatively determined its chemical composition. Sharing chemical data from all of the groups allowed the students to calculate the temperatures and pressures that the minerals formed under from their EPMA data,” Dr. Dutrow said.

“The next course in the sequence is igneous and metamorphic petrology, a junior level course. The students have a semester-long research project that culminates in using the electron microprobe to obtain chemical data on minerals, then using this data to unravel geologic history. Dr. Darrell Henry teaches this course and made the poster (presented at the GSA Conference).”

Dr. Henry explained that, “The embedded research (we call the Pet Rock Project) in the Geology 3014 (Petrology) course is a junior-level course that has been part of that course for over 20 years. In the early times we used a JEOL 733. However, the machine eventually wore down and after 29 years we replaced it with the JEOL 8230 that we currently have. The introduction of the EPMA to students at the sophomore Mineralogy class (Geology 2081) has taken place over the years. More recently, there have been formal EPMA projects in Mineralogy. This serves as a great introduction to the Petrology course because for the embedded research project they already have a working knowledge of the EPMA. The embedded research project obtains critical data from the EPMA and this forms the basic information that they use to give oral presentations and papers in a professional style (this course is designated a communications-intensive course).”

Dr. Dutrow adds, “Having this instrument in house, made possible by JEOL working with us to stretch our dollars, permits students to have unique learning experiences and research opportunities. I'm very thankful to JEOL.”

Dr. Henry added that students doing formal undergraduate research on their own projects are able to use Scanning Electron Microscopes in the University’s Shared Instrument Facility. Students also get outside for field camp between their junior and senior years.