Archive for May 6th, 2012

A rite of passage: Geology Junior Independent Study presentations

May 6th, 2012

WOOSTER, OHIO–The College of Wooster requires an Independent Study (I.S.) thesis (or performance) from all of its graduates. These are not just extended literature reviews, but unique research projects crafted for and by each of our students. We devote three semesters to the process. Readers of this blog are well acquainted with Senior I.S. work because we highlight each study with multiple entries. The first I.S. semester, which is usually (but not always) taken in the spring of the junior year, gets far less outside attention. This is because most of the work is preparation for the research to come in the following summer and school year. Students and faculty sort out projects for each junior, narrow and focus their objectives, and then do a thorough library study to form hypotheses to test in the field or lab. Occasionally we have specimens to work on as a preview, or have even done some of the fieldwork during Spring Break. No matter what, though, each student eventually presents his or her research ideas to the faculty and fellow classmates. Last week most of our juniors gave their talks and posters. (Two of our juniors are out of sequence; one presented last semester, the other will this summer.)

This presentation is the first of three that these students will give to the department about their projects. It is always the most difficult because the research is just beginning and the students are new to giving talks. By their senior years these same students will feel like veteran speakers and masters of their topics. As juniors, though, the task is daunting. The faculty make the proceedings a little less formal than the senior presentations (note in the photo above Anna Mudd is giving her talk on paleosols from a cart as a podium!), but our juniors are still facing a group of their peers … and scary faculty charged with evaluating their performances. The students came through this year and did very well.

New to the system this year were posters from the Utah group (explained below). Each of these four students still gave an oral presentation, but rather than all repeating the same basic framework information (location, geological setting, etc.), they began their set of talks with these poster discussions. Above we see Kevin Silver starting to explain the Utah integrated projects, with Whitney Sims ready to do her part at the end.

Four students (and Clare Booth Luce award winner Tricia Hall) are going with Dr. Shelley Judge and Dr. Meagen Pollock to the Black Rock Desert in south-central Utah to explore petrological and structural questions:

Will Cary will be looking at the ballistics of volcanic bombs thrown from the eruptions.
Whitney Sims will examine the petrology and geochemistry of particular lava flows.
Kevin Silver is studying xenoliths in these lava flows.
Matt Peppers will be doing a fracture analysis of the Ice Springs lava flow.

Two of our students will be doing Keck Geology Consortium projects this summer:

Anna Mudd is examining paleosols (ancient soils) developed in the northeastern Oregon.
Joe Wilch is assessing metamorphic core complexes in the northern Snake Range of Nevada.

Two students are traveling with Dr. Mark Wilson to the western islands of Estonia:

Richa Ekka will concentrate on petrology and paleoenvironments of Silurian carbonates.
Jonah Novek will study Silurian paleocommunities and recovery faunas.

Two students will be in Glacier Bay, Alaska, with Dr. Greg Wiles:

Jenn Horton and Lauren Vargo will study the reaction of trees (and their rings) to climate change and isostatic rebound.

Finally:

Melissa Torma is studying Jurassic faunas in Israel with Dr. Wilson.
Kit Price will be examining Ordovician sclerobionts in the Cincinnati region, also with Dr. Wilson.

This summer you will see blog posts from all of the above as they start their senior adventures!

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A giant oyster (Eocene of Texas)

May 6th, 2012

It’s no ordinary oyster, of course, because it comes from Texas. It certainly is the largest oyster I’ve ever seen. Wooster received it as part of a large donation in 2010. (You can see students studying it in this previous blog entry.)

All we know is that it came from Texas (a notoriously big place) and the Eocene Series. It appears to be the extinct oyster Crassostrea gigantissima (Finch, 1824). Curiously, this is the first fossil species described from the Paleogene of North America (see Howe, 1937). It is worth quoting the entire description:

Fossils. This extensive formation is chiefly composed of a large species of ostrea, which I believe has not yet been described. A specimen of it may be seen in the Philadelphia museum; it is twelve inches long and two and three-quarters wide, and each valve from half to two and a quarter inches thick — Major Ware says they occur larger; on account of their great size I propose to call them Ostrea Gigantissima. The shells appear but slightly changed by their residence in the earth, and are in many parts used for burning into lime. (Finch, 1824, p. 40)

This is what it took to name a new species in 1824! Since then, of course, we have a detailed set of rules for naming animal taxa detailed in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. The Lawrence (1991) reference below is an example of what we often have to do in order to bring old names like “Ostrea Gigantissima” up to, well, Code.

The interior of the attaching valve of Crassostrea gigantissima.

The top surface of our giant oyster is riddled with these small holes. They are produced by the boring sponge Entobia, which is the next Fossil of the Week.

References:

Finch, J. 1824. Geological essay on the Tertiary Formations in America. The American Journal of Science and Arts 7: 31-42.

Howe, H.V. 1937. Large oysters from the Gulf Coast Tertiary. Journal of Paleontology 11: 355-366.

Lawrence, D.R. 1991. The neotype of Crassostrea gigantissima (Finch, 1824). Journal of Paleontology 65: 342-343.