Classic Rock on iPhone (the Metamorphic Kind)

by Gabrielle DeMarco on November 3, 2009

While you might enjoy listening to little Rolling Stones or Fleetwood Mac on your iPhone during your next hike, geologists both amateur and professional will now be using the smartphone to study the original classic rocks – perhaps schist or maybe the more refined marble. One of likely the first applications to bring science to the popular device, the new MetPetDB app is allowing geoscientists to proudly declare, “I have an app for that!”

Created by a team of computer scientists, geologists, and undergraduate students at Rensselaer, MetPetDB is a new-age tool in an age-old field of study. The app gives users the ability to search through thousands of rock samples without leaving their desk or, if they are on a field expedition, search through samples taken in their current location. As an example, while hiking up Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks, a search for surrounding samples would bring up photos of rock samples taken nearby as well as information on what type of rock they are, who owns them, the minerals present in the sample, metamorphic grade, and any scientific publications published related to the sample. Your cairn contribution need never be of unknown origin again.

Students, teachers, and scientists now have the chance to easily sort through thousands of rock samples without getting their fingers dirty. Or, if they prefer to get a little lithosphere under their fingers, they can dig up their own sample and compare it to other samples in the apps’ database.

The creation of the app is also a cool example of interdisciplinary research with geologists and computer scientists coming together to bring to new knowledge and tools for discovery to the masses. The project was lead by professors Frank Spear in Earth and Environmental Science and Sibel Adali and Boleslaw Szymanski in Computer Science. It is also an important example of what undergraduates can accomplish with faculty support and a little computer code, as undergraduates were heavily involved in creating the scientific application.

So, if you have an iPhone or related device and a hankering for some geologic knowledge, download the free app here.