In praise of the humble Ro-Tap

January 25th, 2011

While we celebrate our new XRF and XRD equipment in Dr. Meagen Pollock’s petrology lab (which has already produced actual results), I thought we should also recognize our oldest piece of continuously-operated equipment in the department, the Ro-Tap Sieve Shaker:

This simple device was invented in the early 1900s by W.S. Tyler, and the company he founded still produces them today. The new versions are considerably sleeker than our massive machine. The Ro-Tap is designed to shake a series of nested sieves to sort granular materials into various size fractions. “Ro” refers to “rotate” and “Tap” to hammering at the top. You can imagine the noise that results. My Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class is using our ancient Ro-Tap (which was old when I was a student) to sort sediment samples. Each student was given a vial of an unknown sediment to describe by size distribution, mineralogy, grain shape and other characteristics. They will produce descriptive and statistical reports with conclusions about the possible environmental origins of the samples.

Joe Wilch preparing the sieve stack for the Ro-Tap.

The simple balance we use for weighing the size fractions, along with weighing trays and a datasheet.

Will Cary examining his unknown sediment sample with a photomicroscope. He is processing images through the computer on the right.

The beauty of science, especially Earth science, is that we blend the sophisticated and the simple as we describe and try to understand patterns in nature. You can stand in the basement of Scovel on some afternoons and hear the quiet purring of the X-Ray equipment as the steadfast old Ro-Tap bangs away in the background as it has for decades.

New Geology X-Ray Lab

January 18th, 2011

WOOSTER, OH – Big news in the Geology Department: our new X-ray lab is being installed this week! Early last year, the Geology Department was awarded funding from the National Science Foundation to acquire X-ray instruments to enhance our robust undergraduate research program. Installation has been long awaited, highly anticipated, and wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of many people on campus. We have Ron, Patrice, Tracy, and the electricians and plumbers to thank for making it happen. The installation will probably take all week, but so far (knock on wood), things are going smoothly.

It's as if the space was designed especially for the X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (XRF).

The XRF will allow us to measure the compositions of Earth materials right here on campus. No longer will we need to send our samples (or our students) to other labs for major element analyses! Not pictured (and still wrapped in plastic) is the benchtop X-ray diffractometer (XRD), which will enable us to analyze the mineralogy of samples.

We hope our lab serves as a regional center for X-ray analyses and encourages collaborations with physicists, chemists, archeologists, and geologists. Stay tuned for updates!

It is not just fossils in a paleontology lab

November 4th, 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO — To understand ancient life a paleontology student must also know a considerable amount about modern life. In our Invertebrate Paleontology course this means that students study, for example, modern clams to provide a context for the fossil clams they are interpreting. In the above image the class today is dissecting modern infaunal clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) and mussels (Mytilus edulis). I buy them at the local grocery store so that they are fresh and with no preservatives. That means there are always challenges opening them — and always a mushy mess afterwards! It is worth it, though, to sort out the anatomy of these bivalves and match their soft parts to the hard parts we find in the fossil record. It is also a reminder that the stony fossil we study today once had its gooey living moment!

International Research Experiences for Undergraduates (Posters Part II)

November 2nd, 2010

Dr. Meagen Pollock discusses the challenges and rewards of leading international expeditions for undergraduates. She contributed her insights during a special poster session on International Research Experiences for Undergraduates sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Dr. Pollock is a Geoscience Councilor for CUR. Her contribution was coauthored with Dr. Mark Wilson. Wooster students and faculty presented results of international research from Iceland and Israel during this GSA Annual Meeting.

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