Welcome to the blog for the Oberlin College Geomorphology Research Group. We are a diverse team of students working with Amanda Henck Schmidt on geomorphology questions. This blog is an archive of our thoughts about our research, field work travel notes, and student research projects. Amanda's home page is here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr Day with the Sciences

While classes may have been canceled yesterday to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, 29 students from the Oberlin area were keeping their minds sharp at a workshop hosted by Get With the Program.  This organization, founded by Obie alum Jason Williams, engages elementary school kids in fun STEM themed events regularly.  The programs goal is to get kids involved with STEM concepts early, encouraging their excitement and curiosity about these subjects before they can become scary or overwhelming. Each event has a different focus; in the fall there was a petting zoo teaching the kids to about zoology and the classification of farm animals, yesterday the kids were able to learn about Crypto-currencies and the next event in February will be focused on neuroscience!

Photo from the petting-zoo in early Septemeber
The day started at 9:45AM, with the first hour and half or so being focused on getting to know each other. Most of the kids had come to some events before, but were also new faces and introductions to be made! After some intense rounds of heads-up seven-up and a Simon says-charades combination game, we had our first introduction to crypto-currencies. The “watered down” explanation of computers solving complex math problems to encode and decode keys, which then have to be checked against a decentralized nodal-network still mostly goes over my head. After that we introduced them to one more: STEMCoins. Every student was handed their own paper-wallet with a unique QR-code inside, letting us add those coins to a student’s balance if they answered questions or helped others throughout the day. I’m not sure how much these 3rd graders fully understood, but they loved getting to do their own code-breaking. We showed them the “Pigpen” cypher, where every letter is turned into a combination of lines and dots, and had them decode a series of messages on the board. It was a great way to get them thinking, and they were so excited to create their own encrypted messages.
Investigating what might be in the beakers!

After that we had a lunch break at the lovely Stevenson dining hall before starting the second part of the day. Freshly fueled with healthy dose of pizza and ice cream, the kids began their adventures around the science center. All the kids were broken into four groups and two of them began a scavenger hunt while the other two competed in a relay race.  The teams that completed each event the fastest were awarded the most STEM coins. The pairs of teams then swapped roles after each finished, allowing everyone to participate in all of the activities. At the end of the day we scanned in everyone’s QR code one more time and opened up the STEM-Store, a place for them to spend their hard earned coins. Prizes included extremely fashionable slap-on wristbands, XL T-shirts, and some wacky LED Sunglasses. Overall, it was a pretty fun day, and a great way to get children thinking about math and science in a fun and engaging way.

Proudly showing off the folders that they decorated to remember the day

Orange team celebrating their victory

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hi, this is Jackson.

This is my first time working in the Geomorph lab, and I've been looking into some problems on the software side of things.  The first thing I fixed was a problem with the way the software did calculations for lead.  The calculations originally were modified to compensate for a problem that we have since found another solution for, so I had to find and remove that section of the code.  The person who originally wrote the code is no longer part of the lab, but his comments were helpful in learning how the code worked.  There were also a number of samples that threw errors when calculating.  Some of these only had errors in the batch calculations.

There did not seem to be a pattern the errors, which meant that there had to be more than one cause.  I found that some of them had a problem with the names.  The batch search matched names by only looking at the first two parts separated by hyphens and underscores.  This lead to problems in two situations.  When the name had no hyphens or underscores, it would throw an error due to trying to call the second element in an array that had only one.  I inserted a quick if statement to make it work with an array with length one, fixing the problem.

The problem had another side, which is that when the name had only one part, and then a date, the first part of the date would be added as part of the name.  This was, unfortunately, a problem I could not solve, as some of the names were supposed to have numbers as the second part, so simply making it so that it would drop a part if it was just the number would cause those ones to fail instead.  As such, it is just increases the importance of naming the files with the proper system, which always involves at least two parts of the name.

Currently I am working on altering the program so that it can avoid redoing calculations on samples it has already done calculations on, but I am having some trouble with understanding the section of the code I'd need to use to change this, so I will be studying SQL databases some more, and trying to figure out the other causes of errors.  This was my first experience working with code somebody else had written and data, outside of classes, which was a challenge, but gave me a window into a more practical and professional way of coding.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Monica and Josh dive into Oberlin's Plum Creek!

Hello Geomorph lovers - 

Monica here!

I've had such a blast working with Josh on the Plum Creek Project. While we may not have posted about it a lot, I've been sampling 4 locations twice each month since the 1st of May this past Spring. It's been a total blast, and despite Harbin (our esteemed Gamma counter) being on the fritz, I was able to muster up enough data to present a couple ideas about what could be happening to both scientists in the field and my enthusiastic Oberlin colleagues at GSA this Fall.

For all of y'all, essentially I am focusing on completing both a spatial and temporal analysis of Plum Creek, investigating the geomorphology of the creek over the course of the year for inconsistencies, patterns, etc. I've done quite a bit of work on the basic 4-spots, twice a month analysis, so Josh has taken to helping me with that, but also thinking about analysis side projects to help flesh out/clarify my data. Before we move to check in with him - here's some fin pics he took of my overtopping my boots in the field. We've had a rainy fall, which means that sometimes you have to get that barely above freezing creek water in your boots, but it's all for the sake of research.

Josh here!

My first semester working in the geomorph lab has been a lot of fun. I've been working closely with Monica on her sediment transport work, and learning a lot about both the underlying geology and the practical aspects of working in a lab. As a physics major, I don't get to go out to do thing very often, and its cool to drive around plum creek collecting samples. I also get to fill the sample analyzer with liquid nitrogen, and dry down samples to prepare them for analysis. In addition, I spent some time trying to learn how to successfully analyze XRD data on different clays, and hopefully I can have Marcus or Ely catch me up on what they've been doing. Something I've really enjoyed has been engaging with all of the relevant literature, as a lot more of the content of the papers is relevant when actually doing research, as opposed to being in a classroom. Even with just this narrow slice of one branch of geology, there is so much out there, and so much to be gained using the techniques. Two thing I want to focus on next semester are continuing to read papers and simply absorb more knowledge and finding my own small project to take ownership of. All in all, the work has been engaging and satisfying, and I look forward to continuing with everything.

Josh's finest photograph of our high-tech sieving equipment:

Monday, November 6, 2017

Mid Semester Updates!

Marcus here,

I’ve been working with Ely to investigate Dominica, an Island in the Caribbean. Over the summer I was fortunate enough to take part in the KECK research project (which you can find posts of if you search through the blog a bit) and this semester has been an extension of that. While I was here in July and August I spent a lot of time in the Geochemistry lab preparing the samples we collected for gamma-spectroscopy. It's a process i’ve talked about before, but essentially we want to create two samples from the original, one with just the coatings of the grain and another with everything else. In this lab we are just concerned with the coatings! This semester has been a little less exciting than previous ones in the lab as we’ve had to overcome a lot of technical and mechanical difficulties.

The first hurdle we had to overcome was a malfunction gamma-spectrometer. Over the summer something fell out of alignment and upon returning to Oberlin in July, we found out that we had been running samples through it but not getting any real results. We tried finding make-shift solutions for this problem several times, but ultimately it seems that the only solution was to send it back and have the manufacturer's repair it. In the meantime, Amanda suggested that we find other ways of collecting data. So we went across the street to the physics department and learned how to use the XRD, or at least tried. An XRD, or x-ray diffractometer, works by shooting x-rays at a solid substance and figuring out how much the refract before returning to another meter. This is useful for figuring out the mineralogy of things as each mineral has a unique structure which diffract rays differently. Ely and I spent several days perfecting our technique on around 20 samples, but hit a small roadblock in understanding what the values we obtained meant. There was software on the computer which identifies possible candidates, but it's hard to narrow down one from a list of hundreds.  There have been lots of conversations with our Mineralogy professor as well as Amanda in how to best choose the right mineral we’re looking at.

The slide for XRD analysis, prepared with Kaolin. We were suppose to make the surface as flat as possible, but we quickly found out that trying to do that was an extremely tedious process!
So, thats kind of where we’re at now--making do with what we’ve got. In the absence of substantial real data Ely and I have been reading a lot of papers to make sense of the diffractograms (thanks for the specificity, Zeb) to try and figure out what exactly is in our samples, but its been a struggle. Amanda suggested that we see if any of the samples we ran through the gamma-spectrometer had meaningful data, and it turns out we have 6 or 7 that did run successfully. I think our plans for the rest of the semester are to continue parsing out the XRD information, even if it's just loose connections / verifications of assumptions and try to analyze the few samples that did make it through Harbin.  I still see a lot of paper reading in our future!
XRD output of one of the samples we ran! This pattern was pretty characteristic of  most of the samples we saw and it is turning out to also be very tricky to work with!

Hi! This is Ely,

This fall has been my first semester in Amanda’s Geomorph lab, and I’ve had a blast learning the ropes from the rest of the lab group, especially from my partner, Marcus. I have joined Marcus in helping him further his Dominica KECK research project. My semester started with some general training on how to perform some of the tasks Marcus and I are responsible for.  These items include operating our gamma-spectrometer, HARBIN; leaching soil samples, and operating the X-Ray Diffractometer (XRD). For a portion of the semester, we ran samples in the XRD, and since then have been trying to decipher the data it produces, which should allow us to understand the composition of the Dominica soil samples. In addition, we leached several samples in order to prepare them for Mae Kate, a recent Obie graduate. She is currently using the samples for her research at University of Vermont. As of right now, Marcus and I are hoping to return to Dominica during winter term to collect more samples, as we believe they could provide great insight as to the before and after effects of a large tropical storm, such as Hurricane Maria, which hit Dominica head-on. I have really enjoyed my time in Amanda’s lab and being able to work alongside a mentor such as Marcus. I have truly learned a lot about the scientific methods used in a lab that is not part of an organized classroom setting, something I have never experienced before.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lab day number 4!

Today was a long day for Team Geomorph.  We started out by doing some GIS/photoshop/abstract-writing, then Kira and I moved on to weighing out our samples and adding hydrochloric acid to them.

Geologists (Kira, above, and Haley, top) hard at work

We took advantage of a delicious free lunch in the lobby after we put the samples in a sonic bath (to keep them mixed while the acid leaches off the coatings of the grains), then went back to work on the computers.  At one point, we had to turn off the heat in the sonic bath since the bottles were starting to deform and smell weird, but after that we were back to work drying out the fine-grained samples!  We centrifuged them to get out some of the water, then scoop out the mushy muddy clay and put it in dishes to go in the oven to finish drying out.

Oh me oh my… “hard rock” people were all over the place today. We received our last batch of
rock buckets/samples yesterday (and just in time). Those of us that needed to finish powdering
rock samples were able to do so. Jessie and Sarah were able to weigh out the powders to prep
them for their acid baths. I also got the rest of my thin sections (Thank you Bill!!!!!) and get to
start doing my point counts tomorrow (1000 points on 11 slides… huzzah!).

Half of my thin sections (I’m really excited about the one with the giant enclave).
Now that all the rock cutting and powdering machine work is finished we get to spend our time
glued to petrographic microscopes and thumbing through different scientific papers that relate to
our projects (happy happy joy joy).
Twinned plagioclase crystals 👿 ...check out that cleavage👿
Everyone has the option to take the day off tomorrow but a few of us are planning on going to
the lab and taking advantage of having fewer people to try and work around in our small
basement lab. There is also a change that the SEM machine will be repaired tomorrow (fingers

~Haley and Katie

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Union Day 3

With the SEM broken, the petrologists found other ways to occupy their time. Some powdered their rocks to be analyzed for chemical compositions. Some took pictures of their thin sections or did a point count to find which minerals were in their samples. Some read papers about what they're working on. At the end of the day, the rest of our samples from Dominica were delivered, so we have six more buckets (over 200 pounds!) of rocks to prepare to be analyzed over the next few days.

Team Geomorph didn't have a super exciting day either! The past two days have been spent plugging away on the computer, either completing GIS information, photoshopping the clouds out of satalliete imagery or plotting the landslides on the island. We've been eagerly waiting for our samples to arrive from Dominica, so when we got word from Holli that they were in it was a nice change of pace. There are a handful of things we want to do with the actual samples, while on Union's campus we want to begin the leaching process. In order to start that we need our samples to be dry, so at the end of the day Kira, Haley, Cole and I found some washing glasses which could withstand the awesome heat of the oven. Two samples that were fairly dry to begin with took less than an hour to achieve the nice sandy texture we were looking for, so that was a nice surprise and an even better way to end the day with. Well, kind of end the day with, there were four samples that we didn't have enough room for in the oven, so Haley and I went back at 8 to move around dishes that were done with the still damp ones.
The culmination of two days of HARD work


First Day of Lab Work at Union

The Keck students begun their first day of lab research at Union College, waking up at 9am to get a tour of the campus and lab facilities that they will be working in for the next two weeks. Students were introduced to the GIS systems, the isotope lab, water table, rock saws, the scanning electron microscope (SEM), rock crusher, Ion Chromatography Systems, lasers, and other wicked instruments.

The water team quickly began to prep all of their samples while the other groups split up. Team geomorph spent the beginning of the day working on their GIS mapping, but were cut short by a rogue professor that took over their lab.

Team Hard Rock spent their day cutting out thin sections of their samples using a rock saw:
They also studied some pre-made thin sections, and learning how to make photomicrographs.

All teams came together later in the afternoon for a safety briefing, and then at the end of the day some students went on an adventure to Walmart to stock up on supplies. It rained and hailed on their journey there:

Video Error....  Sorry Folks there was a great hail video.