Cutting Edge > Undergraduate Research > Case Studies for Majors Courses

Case Studies for Majors

Research Courses with a Field Emphasis

Integrating Scientific Discovery in a Field-based Igneous & Metamorphic Petrology Course

David Gonzales, Fort Lewis College

At Fort Lewis College, the Igneous & Metamorphic Petrology class, formerly a separate three-credit course required for the major, is now an elective course taught only when demand warrants, typically once every several years. This course was recast into an inquiry-driven research course with a field-intensive focus. This course was designed to complement and reinforce existing curriculum while sustaining student engagement with rocks and petrologic processes, as well as bolster meaningful student-faculty research opportunities.

Research Courses with an Analytical (Instrumentation) Emphasis

Research Experiences in a Mineralogy Class

Dave Mogk, Montana State University

One of the goals of my Mineralogy class is to demonstrate how the principles and content covered in class can be applied to questions of geologic interest or that have practical applications to society or industry. This is an early step towards introducing students to authentic research projects. The general theme of these projects is characterization of Earth materials, and typically involves collection of samples in the field (if possible), hand sample observation, petrographic analysis, and further analysis using X-ray powder diffraction and electron beam techniques such as scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and back-scattered electron (BSE) imaging and elemental analysis using energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS).

Igneous Petrology, Part of NSF-RUI Project on Navajo volcanic field

David Gonzales, Fort Lewis College

This module highlights the curricular design and outcomes of undergraduate research in the Department of Geosciences at Fort Lewis College (FLC), supported by an NSF-RUI project (award No. 0911290) on the Navajo volcanic field (NVF). A prime impact of this project was to support the education and career development of undergraduate students by further developing basic knowledge and skills in the context of authentic inquiry on petrologic-based research topics. Integrating research into the curriculum promoted scientific habits of mind by engaging students as "active agents" in discovery, and the creative development and testing of ideas. It also gave students a sense of ownership in the scientific process and knowledge construction. A small group of students from this course continued their research as senior research projects as part of the NSF project.

A Term Research Project Focused on Electron Microprobe Studies of Unknowns in a Junior-Level Mineralogy/Petrology Course

Jeff Ryan, University of South Florida
As the core activity of petrology portion of a mineralogy/petrology course, students cooperatively conduct petrographic and electron microprobe analytical studies on suites of Central Blue Ridge metamorphic rocks collected during class field activities. We make use of a remotely operable electron microprobe instrument at the Florida Center for Analytical Electron Microscopy (FCAEM) to conduct all analyses in class.

Interdisciplinary Research-Intensive Courses

Research in Marine Geology

Patricia Manley, Middlebury College
Students cooperatively conduct original research in Marine Geology utilizing marine practices on Lake Champlain, NY - Vermont. The lab section of the course is used to develop and implement a research project. The students are given a research question to solve. To proceed they must first review all available literature and then design a research program. They then implement that program using marine and laboratory equipment that is available to them and report on their outcomes after a semester-long investigation.

In-class Research Activities

Pet Rock Project: A Semester-long Exercise for Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology

Darrell Henry, Louisiana State University
The pet rock project is a semester-long project in which each student randomly selects an igneous or metamorphic rock from the instructor or brings in a rock from an appropriate locality, and follows all of the steps a petrologist would take to interpret an igneous or metamorphic rock from an unknown area. This project runs in the background of the petrology class during the initial part of the semester while the student acquires the petrologic skills to make more sophisticated interpretations. The culmination of the project is for each student to spend several hours with the instructor using the electron microprobe to identify more difficult minerals with certainty, to produce high quality digital backscattered electron images and to obtain quantitative electron microprobe analyses of selected minerals that aid in the interpretation of the pet rock.

The Sonju Complex Project

Karl Wirth, Petrology, Macalester College
The Petrology course at Macalester College is designed around a semester-long project. All laboratory and classroom activities within the course are directed toward understanding and solving a real-world problem, the origin and evolution of an intrusion in northern Minnesota. Emphasis is on using multi-disciplinary approaches, modern instrumentation, and student-generated data. After completing the course, students exhibit improved quantitative skills, reasoning, and understanding of fundamental petrologic processes.

Course-Based Projects

From On the Cutting Edge, Early Career module
This web page features a video of a presentation by Greg Hancock, College of William and Mary, describing his course-based research projects related to teaching about surface processes.