By Margaret McKinney
Six Highlands University geology students presented original research at the Geological Society of America’s Annual Meeting in late October in Denver.
The six represented the largest group in Highlands’ history who have presented at the meeting. They joined more than 6,000 scientists from around the globe that attended GSA’s 125th annual meeting.
The students presented fundamental new geological research ranging geographically from the Hermit’s Peak granite landmark north of Las Vegas to the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas to extinct volcanoes in the Czech Republic.
Their research involved extensive fieldwork as well as lab analysis in Highlands University’s state-of-the-art geology laboratories for earth materials, paleomagnetic-rock magnetism, and geospatial technology research.
Geology professors Jennifer Lindline and Michael Petronis accompanied their students and also presented their own research at the conference. Collectively, Highlands presented 10 talks and posters.
“Other scientists were very impressed with the quality of our students’ research, and were wowed by the new fundamental geological knowledge they contributed,” Lindline said. “We are the only comprehensive university in New Mexico where geology students and faculty are conducting transformative geological research.”
Petronis said, “The diversity of our geology research is allowing us to bring global competency and recognition to our students and put Highlands on the map nationally and internationally.”
Lindline presented her own structure and geochronology research on Hermit’s Peak — a granite batholith that rises more than a kilometer from the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that has never been studied.
Lindline advises graduate student Danielle Cedillo, whose thesis studied the structural aspects of Hermit’s Peak, with a focus on granite formation and placement.
“The data from my study suggest that Hermit’s Peak was a mass of magma that was injected into the crust during the formation of North America approximately 1.7 billion years ago during the Paleo-Proterzoic era,” Cedillo said. “We used uranium-lead ratio analysis to date the Hermit’s Peak rocks. They are 300,000 years older than previously thought.”
“It was a phenomenal opportunity and experience to give an oral talk about my research at this international GSA meeting,” Cedillo said.
Adam Brister is another geology graduate student who presented at the conference. He drilled rock samples and used geophysical tests to understand the construction of extinct cinder cone volcanoes in the northeastern Czech Republic.
Petronis is Brister’s thesis adviser.
“I used rock magnetism to map the different volcanic features such as dikes, lava flows and conduits of the extinct Trosky volcano,” Brister said. “We found that the volcano has a complex infrastructure of multiple eruptions that are representative of most cinder cones found along rift systems.
“These data on ancient volcanoes can help provide insight into growth and hazards associated with active volcanic systems worldwide. It was a fantastic learning experience to conduct this research,” Brister said.
Other geology students who presented at the Geological Society of America meeting include:
Andrew Romero’s study focused on geological mapping and understanding the tectonic setting of early crust formation of the upper Gallinas Canyon northwest of Las Vegas. Lindline is his thesis adviser.
Sarah Shields’ study focused on the magnetic characterization of sediment cores from the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas. Petronis is her thesis adviser.
Amanda Aragon’s thesis contributed to establishing and developing best practices for the new USDA- funded geospatial technology lab for advanced map making at Highlands that Joe Zebrowski directs. He advised Aragon.
Zebrowski also presented an abstract about the cutting-edge geospatial technology lab and the university’s Geospatial Applications in Natural Sciences program.
Sarah Trevino conducted a magnetic polarity study of the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas. Kate Zeigler, who is a post-doctoral geology researcher at Highlands, advised Trevino.
Zeigler also presented her study about the Union County hydrogeology project in northeastern New Mexico.
Two more geology graduate students, Geno Castillo and Daniel Garza, worked in the Highlands University recruitment booth at the conference, acting as ambassadors for the geology program.
Students working on local projects will present their original research at the 2015 New Mexico Geological Society’s Fall Field Conference — The Geology of the Meadowlands — that Highlands geology faculty and students will host.
“At Highlands, our opportunities in geology have been limitless, thanks to Dr. Lindline and Dr. Petronis. They are remarkable scientists and are known across the world. I owe my success to them,” Brister said.
Lindline and Petronis have both received professor of the year honors at Highlands.