This past summer, Alexandra Horman, a senior from Grand Rapids, MI, had the opportunity to carry out research with her advisor, Carrie Menold, a professor in the geology department. Horman presented her findings at the Geological Society of America national meeting in Phoenix this past June.
In order for students like Horman to complete their majors and attend graduate school, Albion College offers a summerly course called Field Camp for geology students.
“You go to Wyoming for like a month and travel around the state, basically doing all the hands on things outside that you can’t do in the classroom,” said Horman. “You learn how to identify rocks and make maps.”
During Horman’s field camp, she and Menold took a trip out to Wyoming for all of June. The two stopped at Yellowstone and Teton National Parks as well as various other places throughout the mountains.
“I learned a ton,” said Horman, “It’s crazy how being out in the field changes things. It’s all the immersion experiences you can’t get in school.”
After returning to Albion a couple weeks after, they packed up to fly out to Stanford, California to continue their research, mainly studying rocks from India and the Himalayas.
“We used [an] ion microprobe called SHRIMP,” said Horman. “We used that to get some boron isotope data and some trace element data for the rocks we had been looking at.”
Overall, Horman and Menold worked on patrology, so they analyzed the rocks, what they are made of, and how and where they form. The two focused on the interactions of rock materials with fluid within the rocks, questioning how it might change when formations were subducted.
“Geology is like a hard science, and I really like it,” said Horman. “When things come easily to you they are more to do, and it is easier to learn.”
After compiling her research, Horman decided that she had enough to form a mini project that would eventually turn into her senior thesis. Taking the same research, she attended the conference in Phoenix and presented in the undergraduate session.
“It was really cool seeing all the different people there,” said Horman. “At each school, everyone has their own idea of what research is, so it was cool to be immersed in the professional field.”
Getting the chance to present at a big conference like this, Horman said, prepared her for future endeavors towards graduate school.
The Geological Society of America is the United States’ primary research conference for geology. While professionals and graduate students come to present at the conference, there is also a session for undergraduate research sponsored by Sigma Gamma Epsilon, a geology honorary society. The Gamma Kappa chapter at Albion College is directed by Menold.
As one of the 50 or so undergraduates present at this years conference, Horman was awarded the Best Undergraduate Research. Over the past ten years, Horman is the fifth student from the Albion Geology department to win, which is rare.
“It’s a big deal that she won,” said Menold. “It means both the quality of her research and her ability to communicate it were considered the best of all participants.”
As a geology major with a geographic information system (GIS) minor, Horman has been working with Menold through the National Science Foundation grant that Menold received last year. The grant has allowed these two women to work on rocks from the Himalayas and study characteristics related to high pressure fluids in collisional environments. Horman’s studies require her to characterize the samples and assess their chemical and structural heterogeneity, which is the state of being diverse in content.
“I hope to prepare to go to grad school but, you have to pick what you want to do and I don’t know yet,” said Horman.
Horman plans to look into further academics related to geology and patrology. As part of the role being her advisor, Menold has been helping Horman with her research for her thesis as well as the search for graduate programs.
Horman mentioned that future career options for her include a consultant at an environmental firm, a construction company or the mining business. However, she also said that there are many other options available that she has yet to explore.
“I hope that something comes up that is unique and different because I’m not sure that I want to go into mining,” said Horman. “Honestly, it would be cool to find a more environmentally friendly way to dig minerals up instead of just blowing stuff up.”