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Enhance student understanding of geophysical data, methods, and interpretations to change the title use the 'Full Editing Tools' option on the right

Sarah Titus & Bill Titus, Geology, Physics/Astronomy, Carleton College
This information was derived from your initial application. The goals and assessment sections should be updated as you move through the project.
Geology 240: Geophysics
Number of Students in Class: 20

Project Description

We plan to develop curricular materials including software to enhance student understanding of geophysical data, methods, and interpretations. We have chosen gravity as the focus of this project because, in many ways, it may be the simplest geophysical method that students will encounter in their careers. Gravitational field lines are always downward directed, gravity variations are due to density differences, and most gravity corrections can be performed by hand. In contrast, other geophysical methods (e.g. magnetic, electrical, electromagnetic) have more complicated field lines that may vary in time and/or more complicated data processing requirements (seismic surveys, ground penetrating radar) before data can be used to interpret subsurface geology. Thus, gravity serves as a useful introduction to geophysical methods.
Our project has three primary learning goals:
1. Students will learn to assign and analyze uncertainty in gravity methods.
2. Students will be able to visualize subsurface geologic structures.
3. Students will have an authentic research experience by following the process of data collection, analysis, and interpretation from start to finish.
These goals will be addressed in a 200-level geophysics course taught by Bill and Sarah Titus. This course was taught for the first time in 2012 where we had access to two gravimeters (one newly purchased, the other borrowed). The course will be taught again in 2014. The course is co-taught for a reason – Sarah is comfortable with instrumentation and the practical side of geophysics; Bill is comfortable with the theory and modeling side of geophysics. Further, Bill has developed novel methods for analyzing gravity data and developed teaching modules for modeling the data in Mathematica (which we will share on the SERC website when they are finished). In short, you could not ask for a more integrative course that further includes aspects of visualization.

With regards to authentic research experiences, some students in 2012 used the gravimeter to measure gravity in Sarah's back yard with the hope of detecting a city easement on the lot. (We found that magnetic methods were better at detecting that signal.) In 2014, we plan to have a team of students collecting gravity data across the Mid-Continent Rift, a major geologic structure in the Midwest that happens to run under Northfield. This feature is of renewed interest to geoscientists due to a major NSF-funded project bringing seismic equipment into the region ( in the near future.

We hope that after exposure to collecting, analyzing, modeling, and interpreting gravity data (or some combination of this processes), students will better understand the uncertainties that are inherent in gravity data and models, be better able to link gravity data to possible subsurface geometries and indeed to envision these geometries at all, and to be better prepared for careers in the sciences by participating in an authentic research experience made possible with a gravimeter on campus.


This project will use the geophysical technique of gravity as a way to provide hands- on experience to undergraduate students that demonstrates the utility and applicability of geophysical methods for imaging the Earth.

The three specific learning goals of this project are to improve:
(1) students' understanding of uncertainty in data and models
(2) their ability to visualize subsurface geologic structures, while simultaneously providing
(3) an authentic research experience using scientific equipment and expert- level modeling and interpretation techniques.
The first goal is part of the broader push in science education to develop students' quantitative literacy skills. The second reflects students' difficulties with component spatial skills, which may include imagining subsurface geologic structures. The third reflects the importance of authentic research experiences at the undergraduate level, which has been cited as a major reason that female undergraduates at Carleton College continue in the sciences (Wilson, 2006).


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Progress Report

Description and Teaching Materials

References and Resources

This section should be completed after you have used your materials in the classroom.

Lessons Learned

Context for Use

Teaching Notes and Tips