April 20, 2012
Geology student finds niche with field, research opportunities
As Jessica Walter completes her degree at Northwest Missouri State University this summer, she has field experiences, a research project and a published article to boost her credentials.
Walter, a senior geology major and biology minor from Tarkio, completed a research project during which she examined samples of dolostone rocks and a diabase intrusion taken from the St. Francois Mountains in southeast Missouri, and she determined mineral changes in the rocks.
With assistance from Dr. Renee Rohs, associate professor of geosciences, Walter began her research, titled “Mineralogical Composition of Diabase and Altered Dolostone from the St. Francois Mountains near Annapolis, Missouri, USA” in May 2011 and presented it last fall at the Geological Society of America (GSA) conference in Minneapolis. Over the winter, their research also was published in The Compass, an Earth science journal of the Sigma Gamma Epsilon honor society.
Presenting the research at a national conference and answering questions of professors and geological professionals was a valuable learning experience that will be important as she embarks on a career, Walter said. Taking that a step further and publishing her research wasn’t a goal when Walter started it, but it’s one she’s happy to have attained.
“I think it’s very exciting and it’s very important to gain experience in the geological field,” Walter said. “You need to have that hands-on experience so you can relate the subjects you’re learning in the classroom to the field. That’s why our field trips are so important to see the rocks in the field and get the big picture.”
Walter was inspired to take on the research project last year after Rohs discussed the opportunities available to undergraduate students in one of her geology courses. With Rohs’ guidance, Walter chose to focus her research on mineralogical composition, knowing she would be getting a closer look at the geology of the St. Francois Mountains during an upcoming field trip.
After turning their rock samples into powder and thin sections, Walter and Rohs studied X-ray diffraction and X-ray fluorescence of the samples to determine their composition. They found dolomite, a sedimentary rock, next to diabase, an igneous rock, and determined the dolomite was likely silicified as a result of hydrothermal alteration, which occurs when water seeps into the rock layer and alters its composition.
Laboratory work conducted on samples with highly technical equipment must be done with patience, consistency and persistence so the results are meaningful to other scientists, Rohs said. Walter followed that model and spent many hours preparing her samples for analysis.
“Jessica was also patient as we analyzed her samples, willing to watch and make sure that the data was complete and of good quality,” Rohs said. “In working with her on the research, she always came through with what I asked her to complete before our next meeting. This was true of the writing process as well and one of the reasons that her article was successfully published.”
The daughter of a veterinarian, Walter said she’s always been interested in science, but she didn’t think about pursuing geology initially. She tried multiple other majors after arriving at Northwest as a freshman, before the instruction of Rohs and Dr. Aaron Johnson convinced Walter geology was the right fit for her.
Field trips offered by Northwest’s Department of Geology and Geography, like a trip to South Dakota, led by Dr. John Pope, also proved to be excellent learning ground, Walter said. The trip to South Dakota last year took her to the famed Black Hills and Badlands as well as Devils Tower in Wyoming. During the field trip students completed a variety of exercises and constructed a stratigraphic column by analyzing and measuring rock locations.
“You just have to keep working until you find the subject that’s right for you,” Walter said. “I took classes in different areas to figure it out, but it took me awhile and I found my niche. A lot of times, it’s not what you think it will be.”
Said Rohs, “Jessica has truly blossomed during her time in the geology program at Northwest. Although she has always been strong academically, her leadership skills, ability to conduct research, and verbal communication skills have all grown as she has developed into a strong scientist.”
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