Undergraduate Research: Digging into Geology Fieldwork to Learn Science

This summer, geology major Christopher Eddy (pictured center) spent 10 weeks as a Norwich University Summer Research Fellow investigating the boundary between two ancient mountain formations. He describes it as a “non-stop learning experience.”
Norwich University Office of Communications

August 26, 2015

Where some see ordinary rock or stone, geology major Christopher Eddy sees clues. Clues that reveal titanic clashes of the earth’s crust or date bedrock to eras long before the dinosaurs.

This summer, the rising junior spent 10 weeks in the field and lab investigating the boundary between two ancient mountain building events in central Vermont.

Known as the Richardson Memorial Contact, the region separates the 480 million-year-old Taconic mountain building event, or formation, from the younger 320-million-old to 330 million-year-old Acadian mountain building event.

Geologists have puzzled over this complex boundary for nearly a century, trying to understand its geologic backstory.

Seeking to add more data to the science debate, Eddy and his faculty advisor, Assistant Professor of Geology G. Christopher Koteas, performed detailed geologic mapping and lab-based microstructural studies of rocks along the boundary structure.

“My research project really stemmed from an urge to do science and really dive into the field,” Eddy says.

He applied to the NU Undergraduate Research Program to become a Summer Research Fellow. Administered by the Office of Academic Research, the program awarded 38 Norwich undergraduates stipends up to $4,000 to cover six- and ten-week research projects across the arts, sciences and professional fields this year.

Fellows are paired with faculty advisors and meet regularly over the course of the summer with fellow student researchers to share findings and the highs and lows of their research experience.

The program is entirely funded by university endowments from alumni dedicated to supporting academic student investigation.

Over the summer, Eddy and Koteas visited 86 field sites along transects of the boundary in central Vermont to gather map data and field samples. Rock samples in hand, they returned to the lab to analyze and interpret their data.

“Geology is pretty great in that everything that happens on a grand scale also happens down to the grain scale, and you’re going to see every mineral preserving those motions,” Eddy says.

Preliminary data revealed the presence of rocks under very high strain, indicating a shear zone, Eddy says.

The rising junior arrived at Norwich after spending six years in the Air Force, where he served as an inflight cryptologic Arabic linguist largely based at Offutt AFB near Omaha, Neb.

At Norwich, he’s been passionate about geology ever since his first intro class. Faculty describe him as a mature, driven and highly capable student

Eddy says the summer has been a nonstop learning experience. His biggest insight: “Sometimes you just don’t know. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t contributed something useful. Just that there is more work to do.”

He adds that working with Prof. Koteas has been an honor, describing him as a excellent scientist, mentor and friend.

Eddy says his project is in the final stages of initial research. Together with Prof. Koteas, he has submitted a poster to the Geological Society of America. If accepted, it would be presented at the Society’s national meeting in Baltimore this coming November.

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Student Research: A 3,000-Mile Architectural Journey Through the Desert Southwest

In June, senior architecture major Keith Stipe joined 27 other Norwich University undergraduate Summer Research Fellows who undertook in-depth research projects across the arts, sciences or professional fields. Awarded by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
Norwich University Office of Communications

August 24, 2015

This summer, senior architecture major Keith Stipe toured the desert southwest to explore ancient and modern examples of earthen and rammed earth architecture and to speak to leading architects in the field.
keith_stipe_portrait

Beginning in Denver, Colo., Stipe drove some 3,000 miles over the course of three weeks, exploring sites in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.

Building styles ranged from thousand-year-old kivas built by the Pueblo peoples at Chaco National Historic Park in Chaco, New Mexico, to modern sculptor Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti home and studio in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

“One of the reasons this research is relevant and important is that even in our current day, a third to half of the world’s population lives in earthen buildings,” Stipe says.

“There’s a huge population of the world that relies on the availability and the easy use of earthen building materials. So it’s something that’s worth continuing to explore and develop in the future.”

His first stop was the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., designed by I.M. Pei, a concrete structure that uses soil and pigment to make a visual connection to the surrounding Colorado landscape.

Other sites included the 30,000-square-foot PERA office building in Sante Fe, the largest rammed earth building in the southwest; Georgia O’Keefe’s Abiquiu, NM, home and studio; and the Lemuria Earthship, an off-the-grid rammed earth home near Taos, New Mexico.

At each site, Stipe studied the architecture’s technical and aesthetic qualities. He sketched site layouts, photographed architectural elements, and measured wall thicknesses to estimate thermal mass and passive heating and cooling abilities.

The aspiring architect also observed the buildings’ relationships to place and landscape, noting how the structures earthen building materials provided a poetic connection to the landscape.

In Arizona, Stipe interviewed influential rammed earth architect Eddie Jones.

Danny Sagan, an associate professor of architecture and program director for NU’s School of Architecture + Art, served as Stipe’s research advisor. “Architecture is uniquely difficult to study in that many of the examples we use to teach the principles of the subject are not located in Vermont,” he says.

He adds that architecture of place must be derived from regionally appropriate building technologies. Stipe’s trip into the arid Southwest allowed him to explore architecture informed by different influences.

“By traveling into an new environment, Keith was able to see the subject of architecture with new eyes,” Sagan says. “Every architecture student should travel to see architecture in a place very different than the places they know. It makes their studies much broader and therefore much more relevant.”

Stipe documented his trip via social media and photography. He plans to produce a book as his final research product, one that synthesizes his visual impressions with research findings and analysis.

Stipe’s research budget of $3,940, which covered food, lodging, travel expenses, and a new digital SLR camera, were covered by his Summer Research Fellowship stipend.

“Architecture is an art which arises not only from an instinctual need for warmth or shelter, but also from a human desire to synthesize and create at a level which is in harmony with landscape and environment,” Stipe notes.

Modern building approaches often involve demolishing a landscape, building suburbs, then replanting trees—a process that doesn’t acknowledge place, he says. “We try to change the environment to fit our perceptions or needs, rather than using the environment as a tool [for] showing us how to live in an area.”

His fellowship now complete, Stipe will spend the fall semester studying architecture and design in Berlin, Germany, at Norwich University’s City Lab: Berlin micro campus.

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Student Research: Visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace to Study Religious Tolerance

Senior Jesse Abruzzi was one of 28 Norwich University undergraduates awarded a Summer Research Fellowship to investigate diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Nurtured by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are entirely funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
Norwich University Office of Communications

August 20, 2015

Jesse Abruzzi, a senior history major, has long been fascinated by the intersection of religion and politics. So as a 10-week Norwich University Summer Research Fellow, he chose to study the lives of English Catholics during the Protestant Reformation in the second half the 16th century.

Abruzzi focused on the small English market town of Stratford-upon-Avon in the Catholic hotbed of Warwickshire. While practicing Catholicism could be a capital offense, a number of Catholics held seats of power in town government.

To conduct original research, Abruzzi used funds from his $4,000 fellowship stipend to visit two storied archives in England: the British Library in London, the world’s largest, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Record Trust Office in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In Stratford, Abruzzi spent days pouring over ancient manuscripts full of details about village life in the 1500 and 1600s. A main source was the Minutes and Accounts of the Stratford Corporation, or town government.

Notes recorded in the 16th century tome describe an array of ordinances that illuminate the concerns of the growing market town. Decrees ranged from efforts to control dogs, trade, and firearms to rules that sought to advert religious tensions or keep tavern owners from watering down their beer.

“Everything I was looking over slowly began to change the questions I was having,” Abruzzi says. “My question changed from a religious one to a more political one.”

He refocused his scholarship on the central issue of how Stratford-upon-Avon formed an autonomous government in such a religiously charged era.

Abruzzi found that despite anti-Catholic rhetoric and actions by the monarchy in London, religion took a back seat to political and economic interests in Stratford-upon-Avon. “[This] fostered an environment that allowed a stable town to form,” he says.

“What I just found really interesting was how a religious reformation that began in Europe resulted in a political reformation in this small English town. [One] that ultimately created, oddly, this religious diversity” imperfect though it was, he says.

Norwich University Assistant Professor of History Emily Fisher Gray advised Abruzzi on his project.

“This is a story that has been investigated by other historians relating to the larger rural county of Warwickshire, but Jesse [is] the first to ask these questions of the town of Stratford,” Gray says.

To help him with his project, Gray visited the British Library and the Shakespeare Birthplace Record Trust Office ahead of time to secure research access and canvas source material on his behalf.

“Jesse was interested in researching the experiences of ordinary people,” Gray says. “I was excited because the stories of regular folks rarely get told, and they are often the most interesting.”

Of his research, Abruzzi says, “I was doing work that I’ll probably be doing at the PhD level one day. So it was great practice actually being in the ‘field’ on my own and getting firsthand experience having to solve certain problems without help.”

He says his greatest takeaway from his fellowship experience this summer was a greater sense of personal and academic independence. “I had some help in the archives the first few days,” he says. “But after that, I was on my own.”

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Photograph courtesy Emily Fisher Gray, PhD