Unfortunately, when many people think of geology, they imagine a tweedy scientist hovering over collections of rocks with one of those huge Sherlock Holmes magnifying glasses. We’re here to put that misconception to rest.
Professor Bruce Watson was kind enough to show us what the modern geology laboratory is all about. He recently took me on a whirlwind tour of the sophisticated research facilities that he and his students utilize within the Rensselaer School of Science. Not a rock in sight. Instead, the modern geology lab is full of state-of-the-art computers, scanning electron microscopes, spectrometers, and lasers.
CLICK ON EACH OF THE PHOTOS for a “tagged” tour.
The SEM Lab
An extremely powerful scanning electron microscope (SEM) is the focal point of this lab. Funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), it is among the top machines of its kind in the world. Watson, his colleagues, and students use this lab to analyze extremely small samples of materials. These materials could be something like a mineral from Earth’s crust or even something as simple as a fragment of a penny to study the materials it’s comprised of. The latter coin experiments are actually used by Watson to teach elementary school children about the elements. Watson is currently using the machine to study how atoms move through materials found inside the earth to understand the formation of Earth’s atmosphere.
The Laser Lab
This lab includes a high-powered laser and large spectrometer donated by a generous alumnus of the Earth and Environmental Science department two years ago. Right now, Watson and his research group are getting some of the very first results developed with this machinery. The powerful laser breaks a sample done into its smallest parts – its elements. The neighboring spectrometer then analyzes the results.