Elementary Geophysics

Don Hellstern
Brookhaven College Geotechnology Institute


This is a proposed course in concept phase that incorporates practical engineering into an elementary geophysics class by studying geophysical theory and the sustainable aspects of working energy industry facilities and collaborating with professionals in those fields to develop pertinent academic experiences.

Course Size:

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is a lower-division, sophomore level concept course offered as elementary geophysics. Unfortunately, obstacles face rapid adoption of this course into our community college curriculum. Our course offerings are limited to those approved and described accordingly by the state higher education coordinating board in the lower division academic course guide manual. Elementary geophysics is currently listed as a 3 credit hour course, lacking a laboratory component. Intentions are to amend the listing to be inclusive of both lecture and laboratory. Enrollment would be capped at 15 students. Lecture class would meet twice each week and laboratory would meet once each week.

Course Content:

Topics of interest to be covered are an overview of physical geology, soils, and plate tectonics, energy resources, seismic reflection and refraction, seismology, borehole geophysics, gravity, and magnetics. Engineering aspects of each topic would be introduced in lecture and experienced in laboratory and field trip components of the course. It is envisioned to design teaching modules with the collaboration of local wind, solar, nuclear, mining, and petroleum energy industry professionals and university geology/engineering departments. These will provide practical application experiences at an introductory level and with emphasis on engineering aspects of each industry.

Course Goals:

Upon completion of this course students will:
  • Be exposed to important human and natural interactions on the environment
  • Develop an appreciation for and understand the science and engineering involved in global energy production by site investigations of energy industry exploration and production
  • Understand seismic wave propagation
  • Use geophysical instrumentation to collect data
  • Interpret seismic reflection and borehole data

Course Philosophy:

This course will be designed to introduce students to the foundations of geophysics from an engineering perspective through the collaboration of area energy industry professionals and university faculty. By incorporating laboratory and field assignments that use instrumentation, interpretation of real data, and site investigation into the course the students will be able to make well-informed comparisons of global energy resources, their respective impacts on the environment, and the engineering skills necessary to develop them. The collaborative nature of the course allows students to make key connections with faculty at universities where they may ultimately transfer. It also provides students views of various career opportunities by the associations with industry professionals interacting through course activities.


Weekly laboratory and/or field studies assignments involving instrumentation use, data collection, and interpretation along with report writing for site investigations will be used for the laboratory portion of the course. A mid-term and comprehensive final examination will be used to assess material covered in lecture.


References and Notes: