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Undergraduate Research in Geology

Doing research at the undergraduate level is incredibly beneficial. Students gain field and lab experience while working closely with a faculty mentor. These opportunities help prepare students for graduate school and careers in geology. Take a look below to see some examples of recent geology student research projects.

Research Students


Caitlin Noseworthy ’19

Title: Age and Tectonic Setting of the Paleocene Glacier Island Volcanic Sequence of the Orca Group in Prince William Sound, Alaska

Faculty Advisor: Tim Flood

Description of Project: Caitlin traveled to Alaska for four weeks as a part of a Keck Geology Consortium project. She collected samples from Glacier Island in Prince William Sound. The samples were sent to Hamilton College in New York to analyze the geochemistry of the rocks. Caitlin will compare the whole rock geochemistry data to data from past projects. This will help determine the age as well as the tectonic setting of Glacier Island. Her project will contribute to a larger project that is looking to determine the provenance of two rock groups: the Orca Group and Valdez Group.

Outcome of Project: Caitlin will be presenting the results of her project at the Cordilleran Tectonics Workshop in Vancouver, British Columbia, in February 2019.


Preston Konop ’18

Title: Inland sand dunes of northeast Wisconsin: Implications for understanding Holocene climate change

Faculty Advisors: Nelson Ham and Rebecca McKean

Description of Project: Preston started his project as a sophomore, collecting sand samples from dunes in Oconto County, Wisconsin. These samples were sent to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Luminescence Geochronology Laboratory for OSL dating. In addition, Preston constructed a detailed GIS map of the Oconto County dune field, mapping dune crest orientations and using them to interpret paleowind directions. Using the dates and the map allowed Preston to get a complete picture of the history of the ancient dune field.

Outcome of Project: Preston presented the results of his research at the Wisconsin Land Information Association conference in the spring of 2017.


Riley Hacker ’17

Title: A new partial skeleton of Xiphactinus audax with a well-preserved neurocranium from the Late Cretaceous Tropic Shale of southern Utah

Faculty Advisor: Rebecca McKean

Description of Project: Riley spent two weeks in exposures of Cretaceous marine rocks in southern Utah in the summer of 2015, where he prospected for new vertebrate fossil sites and completed the excavation of a partial fish skeleton. Following his field work, he spent many hours in the fossil prep lab at St. Norbert, preparing and studying the specimen. As a McNair scholar, Riley was able to dedicate a large portion of his time in the summer of 2016 to the project. He determined that the skeleton belonged to a large predatory fish called Xiphactinus audax and that the specimen contained an extremely well-preserved neurocranium.

Outcome of Project: Riley presented the results of his research at the national Geological Society of America meeting in Denver, Colorado, in September 2016.


Grant Zwiefelhofer ’15

Title: Geoarcheology of Obsidian Xenoliths within Basaltic Lavas from Mount Taylor, N.M.

Faculty Advisor: Tim Flood

Description of Project: Grant is studied basalt samples from the Mount Taylor Volcanic Field in New Mexico. This field was active about 1.5-3.3 million years ago. Once thin sections were made, Grant studied the petrography of the basalt and the included obsidian xenoliths, including point-count analyses. In particular, he was interested in the contact relationship between obsidian xenoliths and the basalt. The nature of the contact has geoarcheological implications in that it may constrain the origin of individual obsidian pieces worked by native peoples.

Outcome of Project: Grant presented the results of his work as a poster presentation at the annual on-campus Undergraduate Research Forum.


Shannon Fasola ’14

Title: Studying Aftershocks from the Mw 7.6 Sept. 5, 2012, Nicoya Earthquake, Costa Rica

Faculty Advisor: Nelson Ham

Description of Project: Shannon participated in a Keck Geology Consortium project. She spent four weeks on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. During this time, she installed a small array of seismometers and GPS stations (see photo above) for the purpose of locating aftershocks 10 months after the Mw 7.6 Nicoya earthquake. Once a week, her team of students traveled to the stations to service them and collect data. Her project utilized the program SEISAN to locate the smaller aftershocks of the five largest aftershocks of the 2012 Nicoya earthquake. Shannon compared these earthquakes to the main earthquake to determine the location of stress release on the Nicoya Seismic Gap and to see if these earthquakes can predict future potential rupture.

Outcome of Project: Shannon presented her work at the Keck Annual Research Symposium at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.


Zach Osborne ’14

Title: Magnetic and Geochemical Characterization of In Situ Obsidian, New Mexico

Faculty Advisor: Tim Flood

Description of Project: Zach spent four weeks doing field work in New Mexico as part of a Keck Geology Consortium research project studying the chemical and magnetic properties of obsidian. His field work involved collecting and geo-referencing obsidian samples (see photo above; Zach is on the far left) at three sites around New Mexico, including Mule Creek, Mount Taylor and Valles Caldera. After his summer field work, Zach did laboratory research on his samples at the Institute for Rock Magnetism at the University of Minnesota, using a vibrating sample magnetometer and an AC susceptibility bridge. He used his results to determine how to distinguish obsidians according to a number of magnetic properties.

Outcome of Project: Zach presented his work at the Keck Annual Research Symposium at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.


Allison Shackelton ’14

Title: Pteranodon Preservation in the Late Cretaceous Niobrara Chalk of Western Kansas

Faculty advisor: Rebecca McKean

Description of Project: Allison traveled to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, where she examined more than 80 specimens of Pteranodon (see photo above). She closely examined their preservation (degrees of completeness, abrasion, fracturing, etc.) and used this information to draw conclusions about the depositional environment they were preserved in. Her work was funded by a Kresge summer research grant.

Outcome of Project: Allison presented a poster on her work at the national Geological Society of America conference in Denver (below).



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