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Petrology in the Field and Laboratory

Rachel Beane, Bowdoin College (rbeane@bowdoin.edu)

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In this multi-week project, students collect samples in the field, analyze them using various tools and instruments, then present their results and interpretations.

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Learning Goals


  • Experience research and all its wonder and frustration
  • Examine igneous and metamorphic rocks in detail
  • Relate field and laboratory work to studies by previous researchers
  • Interpret petrologic data


  • Observation, note-taking, sketching, photographing
  • Locating oneself on topographic map
  • Using Brunton Compass
  • Collecting and describing rock samples
  • Preparing and selecting samples for analysis
  • Identifying minerals in thin sections
  • Analyze minerals using the SEM/EDS
  • Interpreting geochemical data
  • Oral and written presentation of data and results
  • Collaboration

Context for Use

This introduction to physical geology project is accomplished during a weekend field excursion, four 3-hour laboratory sessions, and one class period for presentation.

Teaching Materials

See the sample Peaks Island Project (Acrobat (PDF) 35kB Aug15 05). The projects done by the class are new each year.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Selecting an accessible field area with an interesting problem to address is key. Also essential to narrow the focus of the project and divide it into components that can be tasked or chosen by small groups within the larger class. Tailor the project according to the field and laboratory resources available near or at the institution.


Assessment of the group project is done by evaluating the group presentation according to the guidelines set out in the assignment (see sample Peaks Island Project (Acrobat (PDF) 35kB Aug15 05)). Individual assessment is through an extended abstract each student writes.

References and Resources

Partial support for developing this exercise came from NSF 0126234 and NSF 9951390.