Beyond Hand Samples: Bringing the Outcrop to the Students with Architectural Rock Slabs

Peter Lippert, Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah
Grant Rea-Downing, Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah
Marjorie Chan, Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah

The Frederick A. Sutton Building at the University of Utah is an immersive geoscience education facility designed to engage students, staff, faculty, and the community. Rock specimens and polished rock slabs (typically 2x1.5 meters or greater in dimension) designed for interior building stone are displayed as interactive art and outcrops that provide direct windows to an array of planetary processes. Display pieces are carefully selected in partnership with local stone vendors to teach specific concepts, and they are arranged pedagogically with lighting, mounting, and positioning aimed to showcase the scientific features of each piece. These large slabs are regularly used in classes for hands-on assignments and exercises that engage students and bring the outcrops to them, enabling students and faculty to learn and practice field and observation skills on a variety of rock types at any time of the year and free from accessibility challenges. Many slabs are complemented by hand specimens, petrographic thin sections, and geochemical data that have been and continue to be acquired by students through course work. Here we provide an example of a deformation fabrics laboratory exercise designed around a sheared Cryogenian diamictite from Brazil to highlight how a single carefully selected slab provides hands-on, accessible opportunities to learn and practice analytical skills in Earth System science, depositional environments, stress, rheology, strain, and kinematic analysis of shear zones. We will also have a selection of other examples in the slab teaching collection that have been selected especially for Structural Geology & Tectonics curriculum. We will also discuss strategies for making this collaboration of art, architecture, and science accessible, scalable, and feasible for departments of any size and means. Bringing these outcrops into academic buildings unequivocally enriches student experiences and success, and it has the ancillary benefit of fostering alumni engagement, raising on- and off-campus visibility, and building community partnerships.


Teaching Structural Geology and Tectonics