The program hosts several active areas of faculty research interests, and undergraduate students are an absolute integral component. We are always looking for energetic, motivated, and driven students to be a part of vibrant team of researchers. In addition, many of the classes that students take in Geology will also experience the research atmosphere at current topics and trends are discussed and experimented with. Below are brief descriptions of focused research areas as well as the contributing faculty members.
Interaction of tectonics, climate, and geomorphology
Exploring complex interplay among tectonics, climate, and incision to address grand challenges of how earth-systems feedback plays critical role in landscape deformation and evolution. In tectonically active regions, landscapes evolve through complex geologic phenomena like tectonic and structural deformation, surface processes and climate. In particular, Dr. Gani's research focuses on investigating these geologic phenomena in both extensional and compressional tectonic settings. Dr. Gani's research also investigates the link between tectonics, and hominin evolution in East Africa. She particularly integrate low-temperature thermochronology, structural modeling, field techniques, quantitative geomorphology, remote sensing and GIS modeling to gain a more complete understanding of the research problem. See the homepage of Dr. Nahid Gani for more information.
Using mineral genomics to understand heavy metal entombment, past environments, and to advance materials science
Dr. Celestian's goals as a mineralogist and geochemist are to probe the secrets of how Earth materials work, and to take that understanding to predict and design new functionality. Dr. Celestian focuses on the molecular-scale characterization of Earth materials to understand their roles in a variety of environments. He seek to quantify surface reactivity, evolution over time, and the capacity of minerals to sequester ions, crystallize, and survive in a variety of extreme environments. In deciphering mechanisms at the atomic and molecular levels, he hopes to understand, predict, and even manipulate mineral behaviors and properties at the macroscopic scale. See the homepage of Dr. Aaron Celestian for more information.
Energy and groundwater resources
My current research focuses on the integration of outcrop and subsurface databases in Kentucky and adjacent areas in Mississippian and Pennsylvanian rocks. I have a special interest in energy and groundwater resources straddling the sub-Pennsylvanian surface or what is formally known as the Kaskaskia-Absaroka Sequence Boundary. The energy resources research of late has been mostly in unconventional oil, asphalt rock or tar sands, particularly those in Edmonson County and nearby areas of Kentucky. This work involves both traditional sedimentologic and stratigraphic methods in the field and subsurface but also petrographic characterization of these rocks, petrophysics, and to a lesser extent analysis of fluids. This research engages undergraduate and graduate students and utilizes standard transmitted and reflective light microscopy, SEM, and we are also beginning to incorporate Raman microscopy and XRD analyses in our studies. Contact Dr. Mike May for more information.
Geochemistry as a tool to explore Earth's history
Dr. Jennifer Cole is a geochemist and anthropologist interested in Earth's history over the time period relevant to human evolution. She targets sedimentary archives and uses radiogenic isotopes and trace elements to study rates and processes in the past. Dr. Cole is focusing on two current projects. The first uses the U-Pb geochronometer to directly date relatively young (~1-2 Ma) sedimentary carbonates from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. These carbonates form in direct association with archaeological remains and are interpreted to have formed in freshwater (spring) contexts. This work is in collaboration with Prof. Gail Ashley of Rutgers University and Prof. Troy Rasbury of Stony Brook University. The second project looks at the paleoclimate of northern Africa over a fascinating interval called the African Humid Period (AHP). The most recent AHP occurred between about 11.5 and 5 thousand years before present, and is related to cyclical changes in solar insolation. We are studying the mineralogy and geochemistry of terrigenous sediments (dust) recovered from marine cores along along the NW African margin. This project is in collaboration with Prof. Celestian (WKU) and Profs. Peter deMenocal and Sidney Hemming of Columbia University. See the homepage of Dr. Jennifer Cole for more information.
Carbonate petrology and geochemistry
Dr. Fred Siewers is a sedimentary geologist with expertise in carbonate sedimentology, geochemistry and invertebrate paleontology. He received his Ph.D. in 1995 from the University of Illinois, where he worked on the origin and stratigraphic significance of discontinuity surfaces (hardgrounds and paleokarst surfaces) in Middle Ordovician limestones. He has extensive experience in field geology as well as with a variety of laboratory techniques, including sedimentary petrography, cathodoluminscence microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and geochemical microanalysis. Current projects are focused on the petrology and origin of Middle Pennsylvanian coal-ball concretions and the use of ostracodes for paleoenvironmental reconstruction of Bahamian lakes. He teaches courses in Earth History, Geological Field Techniques, Sedimentology and Stratigraphy, Paleontology and Professional Preparation, and he advises undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of independent research projects. Recently, he has turned his research and teaching focus to clean energy, sustainability and climate change issues and has projects underway with the Illinois State Geological Survey focused on geological carbon sequestration. Contact Dr. Fred Siewers for more information.
Petrogenetic history of volcanic rocks in the Chilean Andes and Mojave Desert
Dr. Andrew Wulff's recent research interests include the petrogenetic history of volcanic rocks in the Chilean Andes and Mojave Desert, the health effects of residential radon and airborne particulate quartz dust, and connections to anthropology/archeology such as the sourcing of chert artifacts using trace element signatures, and the modeling paleoenvironments associated with early hominid finds in Java. These research interests involve quantitative analysis of a wide variety of geological materials using XRF, XRD, ICP-MS, SEM and electron microprobe, and he is pleased to have both undergraduate and graduate students as colleagues in all aspects of these investigations. Dr. Wulff also has a strong interest in developing innovative teaching strategies for all levels and is active in contributing to the earth science curricula in the local school district. Andrew is the 2013 winner of the WKU and Ogden Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching. He is active in training and leading workshops for pre- and in-service earth science teachers. Dr. Wulff serves as advisor for undergraduate Honors students and for undergraduate research projects. Students are expected to become proficient in analytical techniques, write grants, abstracts, and papers - and present research results at professional meetings. Students on these projects have so far received 34 grants from different sources. Contact Dr. Andrew Wulff for more information.
Advancement of geoscience education
Dr. Margaret Crowder is a geologist focused on geoscience education and the advancement of women in areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She has an MST in geology from the University of Florida and an EdD in educational leadership from Western Kentucky University. Her specific research interests from a pedagogical perspective are in the classroom incorporation of student-centered, problem-based learning for enhanced student engagement and understanding. She is currently working to develop more hands-on, inquiry focused laboratory experiences for introductory geology students. From an educational leadership perspective, Dr. Crowder is also interested in gendered organizations and the effects that gendering has on women in STEM disciplines and on women in the wider world of academia. In her dissertation The University as a Gendered Organization: Effects on Management Type, Climate, and Job Satisfaction, she studied faculty job satisfaction and perceptions of organizational management type and climate, particularly focusing on the differences in these areas between genders and among college disciplines. Contact Dr. Margaret Crowder for more information.
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