General Geophysics

Laurie Brown

University of Massachusetts Amherst
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


Introduction to the study of geophysics presented from the global viewpoint, covering plate tectonics, seismology, gravity, isostasy, magnetism, and heat flow. Lectures, in-class activities, problem sets, oral and written presentations, and lab projects both in the field and the computer lab constitute the class work. Course is open to Juniors, Seniors and first year grad students.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an upper level elective course in the Geology major, also available for first year graduate students without a previous course in Geophysics. Prerequisites include calculus, college physics, and at least physical geology (more geology courses suggested). The course has a two-hour required lab plus 3 lecture meetings a week

Course Goals:

  • Students should be able to interpret plate boundaries given geophysical signatures.
  • Students should be able to collect, process, and interpret small amount of seismic refraction, magnetic, and gravity data from the natural environment.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Course activities are designed to encourage students to collect, process, and analyze various forms of geophysical data. This is done in group activities such as the lab segment, or more individually in lab reports and homeworks. The capstone final project is an opportunity to work extensively with one geophysical technique—usually collecting a larger dataset and doing detailed interpretation of modeled results. Assessment includes an oral "defense" of the final project.

Skills Goals

  • Increase quantitative skills.
  • Improve oral communication and presentation.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Traditional homework is still part of this course, with students responsible for determining quantitative answers to problems. Oral communication is stressed with a series of three class presentations, critiqued by both myself and the rest of the class. Emphasis is put on improving presentations over the course of the semester.

Attitudinal Goals

  • Changing students attitudes towards mathematics (as a tool)
  • Increasing student awareness of usefulness and limitations of modeling

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Hopefully, the attitudinal goals are reached by doing. Students have numerous opportunities to use mathematics and do their own modeling, in relation to specific geologic problems.


Student learning is assessed in a number of ways. Traditional ways such as homework and lab reports are evaluated. The oral presentations have question periods to assess the students understanding of specific topics. The final project, usually including fieldwork, data collection, modeling, and interpretation, is presented as a poster, allowing for one-on-one communication about the topic.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) PRIVATE FILE 93kB Jun20 07)

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