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Undergraduate research in field- and laboratory-based petrology projects; benefits and challenges



Undergraduate research in field- and laboratory-based petrology projects; benefits and challenges



Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America 34(6): 303



Undergraduate students in the Montana State University petrology research group are currently involved in several field- and laboratory-based research projects designed to address the stable isotope geochemistry of rocks erupted at the Lassen Volcanic Center. The principal goal is for these students to partake in independent research that produces results which directly contribute to the objectives of the larger group program. In this poster we describe benefits and challenges experienced during the initial project. The scientific goal was to determine oxygen isotope ratios of plagioclase crystals in rocks erupted in May, 1915, in order to investigate magma sources and isotope systematics during complex magma mixing processes. To achieve this goal we used a methodology of field sampling, petrography, mineral separation, and determination of oxygen isotope ratios by laser fusion. Recognized benefits of the research include the following. First, through close interaction with faculty, graduate students, and professional geologists, undergraduate students build strong relationships with scientists in the area of their interests. Second, by acquiring and interpreting high precision analytical data, they learn in-depth about modern technologies and data in the geosciences, providing them with skills and experiences that will be of value in their future careers or graduate work. They also learn how to formulate research questions, how to systematically investigate these questions, and how to critique their work objectively. Finally, by presenting the results of their work at professional meetings, they share in the excitement of making new discoveries and generating results that are truly used. The most significant challenges are money and time. Costs related to stipends, analytical expenses, and travel are substantial and likely prohibitive for many individual students and faculty without generous grant or institutional support. Time is equally prohibitive because it can involve periods of more than two years from initial planning to dissemination of the results. As such, success in field- and laboratory-based petrology research at the undergraduate level requires replacing the concept of a "senior thesis" with that of a longer term project beginning as early as, perhaps, the sophomore year.

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