CCSU Geological Sciences Department Shines in Recent Public Outreach Events

[Left: GSCI majors Angie Colella and Sara Poppa have fun staffing the department table at the Bristol Gem and Mineral Show. Right: Faculty member Dr. Kristine Larsen rocks some eclipse glasses at a safe solar observing station for Earth Science Day]

The faculty, staff, and students of the CCSU Geological Sciences Department “rocked it” in serving the greater community in three recent public outreach events. On Saturday, October 15, students, faculty and staff held a suite of free public events – including planetarium shows, safe solar observing, cratering, make your own starfinder, and exploring rocks and fossils of Connecticut – to celebrate Earth Science Day (which happened to coincide with CCSU Family Day/Homecoming). At the same time (and continued on Sunday October 16), other faculty and students hosted a table at the Bristol Gem and Mineral show, where the public could “look inside a rock” using a variety of microscopes. On Monday, October 17, Dr. Kristine Larsen gave a presentation on 400 years of exploring the planet Jupiter to a packed house at the Simsbury Public Library.

If you are interested in learning about future outreach activities, like our Facebook page

Faculty and Students Entertain and Educate YOU This Weekend!

[Observe sunspots at CCSU or look inside a rock at the Bristol Gem and Mineral Show this weekend!]

The CCSU Geological Sciences Department has a weekend jam-packed with fun and education and we invite YOU to participate!

First, at 12:15 PM on Friday, October 14, Connecticut geologist and mineral specimen collector and photographer Harold “Fritz” Moritz will be speaking on “Quarry Hill and Chrysoberyl Knoll: The Minerals and Quarries of Haddam. Connecticut.” This talk is free and open to the public. Join us in room 517 of Copernicus Hall.

On Saturday, October 15, we celebrate Earth Science Day with two free planetarium shows (11:30 AM and 2:00 PM) as well as hands-on activities from 11:00 AM until 2:30 PM, including sunspot observations (weather permitting), make your own Star Finder, make a model of the sun to take home, and much more! Again, these events are free and open to the public. The planetarium is Room 211 in Copernicus Hall. Earth Science Day events will be down the hall, in the North side (Library side) foyer of Copernicus Hall.

Finally, on Saturday, October 15 and Sunday, October 16 we will have an exhibit at the Bristol Gem and Mineral Show. The show is open 9:30-5 on Saturday and 10-4 on Sunday. Admission is $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for seniors, and free for kids under 12 with a paid adult. Come “Look inside a rock” at our microscope booth! For more information, see

Geology and Astronomy ROCK at CCSU!


Sharing Our Students’ Success at the CCSU Majors and Minors Fair


[Mascot Rex the T-Rex, students Nick Zygmont and Sara Poppa, and faculty member Dr. Kristine Larsen representing the department]

While some departments might find it difficult to find volunteers, the Geological Sciences Department found itself with an embarrassment of riches at the annual Majors and Minors Fair at CCSU, with two faculty members and five students rotating through the table over the course of three hours. The faculty and students shared their passion for geology and astronomy with undecided students as well as faculty and staff from other departments on campus. Of course, having free star finders, candy, and Geology and Planetary Science Club bracelets, as well as an inflatable Saturn (plus an appearance from the ever-photogenic department mascot Rex) never hurts. Please join us at the CCSU Open House on October 30, 2016 or the Bristol Rock and Gem Show on October 15 & 16 and learn more about our programs.

CCSU Geological Sciences Rocks the Durham Fair!

[Joe Croze and Samantha Lawrence show the public at the Durham Fair that Geology Rocks!]

The Geological Sciences Department sponsored two tables at the regional Durham Fair from September 22 to 24, 2016. We had two hands-on displays. The first was ‘What’s inside a Rock.’ For this one we had a binocular microscope where people could look at a rock under low magnification. We also had a petrographic microscope with a camera and an external computer monitor displaying a thin section of the same rock. As people looked through the microscope they saw a rainbow of colors in the thin section due to the effect of polarized light. Nearly every little kid (and most adults) went OOOH! WOW! When we switched to plain light, the colors disappeared. Then  we put the polarizer back in and the colors came back. We rotated the stage so the colors changed like a ‘kaleidoscope.’ We told them that this is how geologists ‘look inside a rock’ to learn what minerals are present. Everyone was fascinated.

We also had a display of rocks from throughout Connecticut and especially from around Durham for ‘This is Durham 200 Million Years Ago.’ The kids were able to touch a fish fossil form Durham and we gave everyone samples of muscovite mica (everyone’s favorite), quartz and pegmatite, along with packets of the three different rock types. It was a huge success. We estimate that at least 3000 people stopped by our tables in the total of 30 hours that we were there. We gave away over 600 bags of rocks and minerals.

For Dr. Evans, it was a pleasure talking with the many people who stopped by and asked questions about the display. Dr. Evans also gave two talks at the Fair: The ‘Geology of Connecticut’ and ‘Climate Change Since the Last Ice Age.’ They both went well, even though the computer projector did not work for the first one. Describing the geology of Connecticut without any pictures was a real challenge.

We were invited back for next year’s fair, and we’ll probably do it. However, we’ll need much more planning as we ran out of every rock and mineral we gave away, as well as the bags to put them in. We want to thank all of the students that spent time collecting samples and working at the Fair: Joe Croze, Samantha Lawrence, Danielle Guzzardi, Sara Poppa, Ian Murphy, Nick Zygmont, Angie Colella, and Isabelle Kisluk. We also thank Dr. Allison Weinsteiger and recent alum Melissa Luna and her friend Shaun Mahmood from Wesleyan University.

— Mark Evans


Student Geochemistry Sleuth is Hot on the Trail of Arsenic Pollution


[Max Meadows is searching for the source of arsenic contamination in Lebanon, CT]

I spent my summer this year working with Dr. Oyewumi on a project with the intent to determine the source of arsenic contamination in Lebanon, Connecticut. Over the past few years, other students have collected data from stream sediments, and bedrock to try and solve the mystery of the contamination, but the data was incompatible with these being the sources. With the stream sediment and bedrock being ruled out, we are led to believe the source of high levels of arsenic is coming from the soil in the town. Of the 87 total soil samples collected, half have been geochemically analyzed by completing acid digestion. One such location resulted in arsenic concentrations nearly 10 times greater than the levels recorded in the rest of the town. Some possible reasons for concentrations of this caliber are overuse of fertilizers and other agricultural products, animal waste such as poultry litter that contains high levels of arsenic, or misused industrial products. I am currently preparing the remaining soil samples for geochemical analysis. It is my aspiration to find the source of the contamination, and to remediate the soils that have been constantly contaminated these past few years. – Max Meadows


Student Research Reaches New Heights Over the Summer

Two CCSU GSCI majors,  Heidi Salg (left) and Kristina Landry (right), worked alongside department chair Mark Evans this summer conducting field research in Wyoming and Idaho. They recount their experiences here.

Working in Wyoming was an incredibly rewarding and exciting experience, definitely one that will remain one of my favorites from my undergraduate education. I’ve gained a much more holistic view of how geoscience is conducted.  I really enjoyed being totally immersed in the field work, and working with other students and professors; it really allowed me to absorb so much in such a short period of time.  But what I value most from the field work experience was being incorporated into a team and learning how geologists conduct research and study the earth. Being included in that processes and collecting data allowed me to apply my education and gave a tangible experience to my academic career. Through the course of two weeks I gained a lot of confidence and a deeper understanding of how geoscientists integrate their knowledge along with their skills of observation and interpretation to analyze the natural world and come to conclusions about the processes governing the earth. The trip really helped validate what it is that’s drawn me to geology

Also besides being a great educational experience it was just a really exciting camping trip in the rugged and beautiful Wyoming Salient and I’m very glad I was able to be part of the adventure. – Heidi Salg

This summer, I spent two weeks in Wyoming and Idaho conducting field work with a small group of professors and students.  This was my second year collecting data in this area. Both years have been incredible learning experiences.  Before I left for the field the first year, I had one year of classroom experience.  With two semesters of looking at pictures and diagrams, reading articles and textbooks, and attending lecture and lab, I felt fairly confident in identifying structures and taking measurements.  When I got into the field, however, it was not as easy as the textbooks showed.  In those two weeks I spent immersed in rocks, I relearned and truly came to understand what I had seen and read about in class.  Seeing first hand the immensity of many of the rock formations and structures gave me a better appreciation for the scale and expanse of the units that I saw on the maps.  The country of western WY and eastern ID was a wonderful place to see the natural landscape and geology.  The vast area of untouched land is the perfect canvas to imagine the history of the rock, and visualize the timing relations of different deformation events.  – Kristina Landry

Student Researchers Rock Local Awards

Two Geological Sciences students received scholarship awards from the Environmental Professionals of Connecticut (EPOC). Kristina Landry received $1500. She has spent two, two-week field sessions in western Wyoming and eastern Idaho collecting geologic structure data from the Wyoming salient fold-and-thrust belt. She has also done fluid inclusion microthermometry on mineral samples to determine the deformation conditions during folding. Kristina also made a poster presentation of her research at the northeast section meeting of the Geological Society of America in Albany, NY in March 2016.

Max Meadows received $2000. He has spent the summer collecting soil samples from the Lebanon, Connecticut area in an attempt to document the source of arsenic contamination. He is currently doing geochemical analysis on the samples. Max will present the results of his research at the northeast section meeting of the Geological Society of America meeting in Pittsburgh, PA in March 2017.

We congratulate these two undergraduate researchers.



Representing CCSU at the World-famous Stellafane Convention


[Recent department graduate Jessica Johnson (left) and current GPS Club President Sara Poppa (right) delivering registration packets]

For many astronomers, the word “Stellafane” is synonymous with magic. The world-famous annual convention of amateur telescope makers, observers, and general astronomy aficionados is held each summer on Breezy Hill outside of Springfield, Vermont. Each year, members of the Geological Sciences Department at CCSU help to bring this event to life through their volunteerism and expertise. 2016 was no exception. Student Sara Poppa, recent graduate Jessica Johnson, and professor Kristine Larsen began their work on the convention months before the official August 5 start date arrived. Larsen, a member of the Springfield Telescope Makers, is co-coordinator of programming at the convention, as well as facilitator of four sessions of children’s astronomy activities at the convention, and is the moderator for all programming held in the McGregor Observatory Library. This year she also delivered a contributed talk on the observing programs of the AAVSO (in her role as AAVSO President) and was the invited “Shadowgram” speaker, a prestigious honor.

Jessica Johnson, a recent inductee into the Springfield Telescope Makers, reprised her popular 2015 Geology Tour of Breezy Hill, as well as assumed the duties of the docent of the scale model of the solar system walks during convention. She also succeeded Larsen as the coordinator of the Telescope Making Award Ceremony presentation.

This was Sara Poppa’s first Stellafane Convention, and was an active volunteer beginning during pre-convention, helping to set up the registration gate, which she and Jessica helped to man during the initial rush of arrivals. Sara also put in many hours volunteering wherever needed on the 80+ acre convention site.

Many thanks to all the GSCI department members who helped, and we look forward to seeing you on the hill again next year!

Faculty Awarded Grants to Improve Education (and More)

Department faculty members Dr. Jen Piatek (above left) and Dr. Jeff Thomas (above right) were recently awarded nearly a half a million dollars in grants to improve geoscience education and research.

Dr. Piatek, our planetary geology specialist, received two grants. The first is GP-EXTRA: Engaging Students in Inclusive Geoscience Field Experiences via Onsite-Remote Partnerships, a project funded through NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Pathways into Geoscience program (IUSE: GEOPATHS). She is part of a team of researchers [including Steven J. Whitmeyer (James Madison University), Declan G. De Paor (Old Dominion), and Christopher L. Atchison (University of Cincinnati)] exploring how technology can provide solutions to solve the problem of access to remote field sites for geoscience students with mobility limitations. The first field season took place this past May in northern Arizona, where she and her colleagues explored several geologically important field sites (including the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Meteor Crater, and volcanic features around Flagstaff). Students who could not get up close to outcrops or hike up cinder cones were able to see many of the same features via streaming video and communicate with the remote field teams to ask questions and speculate about the geologic features in the videos.  The team is presenting some of the initial results at the national Geological Society of America meeting in September, and will be expanding on these results during the second field season in Ireland next May.  More information about the project can be found at– just keep in mind that the project isn’t accepting any more applications. The grant totals $27,000.

The second project, Constraining crater modification and primary ejecta characteristics of Martian craters via quantitative infrared and visible image analysis, has been funded for $292,000 by NASA’s Mars Data Analysis program. She and her colleagues [co-investigators Livio L. Tornabene (SETI) and Nadine Barlow (Northern Arizona University)] are using a suite of datasets to examine impact craters on Mars, with the goal of identifying the characteristics of the least-weathered craters. At CCSU, she and her research students will be working with thermal infrared data, looking for variations in surface temperature associated with different types of crater deposits. Simultaneously, a team at the University of Western Ontario (led by Gordon Osinski) will be mapping the same craters using high resolution visible images. When both maps are finished, they will compare the results (along with information from databases of crater characteristics) in order to understand what surface deposits have come from the formation of the crater, and which are the result of later erosion or deposition. There is room for more student researchers on this project (which will lead to numerous conference presentations and eventually publications), so contact Dr. Piatek if you are interested.

Dr. Thomas, a specialist in science education, has been awarded $144,900 for a second year of funding for the Next-gen Earth and Space Science Literacy Instruction and Expertise or NESSLIE professional development grant project.  This project is funded by a federal grant called the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant under Title II of the No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110).  NESSLIE aims to improve the preparation of 38 middle school science teachers’ Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) earth science content knowledge and pedagogy through intensive and focused professional development. During the summer of 2016, teacher participants from 13 districts will complete three NGSS earth science units, focusing on weather, the solar system, and weathering and erosion. Department colleagues Dr. Kristine Larsen and Dr. Oluyinka Oyewumi will be presenting the latter two of these units. In the Fall the participating teachers will apply what they have learned in their own classrooms. For more information about this project, please go to

Congratulations to our faculty!


Introducing the New GPS Club President


[Outgoing president Jessica Johnson (in green) gives a boost to incoming president Sara Poppa (in blue)]

[Editor’s note: The Geology and Planetary Sciences Club (GPS) held its officer elections in May. Graduating senior Jessica Johnson passed the rock hammer to Sara Poppa, the new GPS president. Sara’s comments follow below. We all look forward to her taking the reins of the student organization, and thank Jessica for her two years at the helm of the organization.]

This fall brings new and exciting adventures for me. I will be taking on the role of president for the Geology and Planetary Sciences club. I am both excited and proud to take on this role.  I cannot wait to work with everyone to make this a great year for the GPS Club. When I joined the club and the department at the beginning of the fall semester everyone made me feel so welcome and that inspired me to become more involved. I hope for this upcoming year I am able to do the same for everyone, including the new members that are to come. So make sure to bring a friend to our first meeting of the year because the more people there are the more opportunities will be available to us and more fun we will have doing what we all enjoy doing!

— Sara