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

Carley Cavanaugh Investigates Water Contaminants


[Carley Cavanaugh presents her research at the National Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Baltimore]

We all expect our drinking water to be clean, but what about the waterways we use for fishing, swimming, and other recreational activities? When we do find pollutants, who is to blame? Can we identify the culprits responsible for tainting our valuable natural resources? Research by CCSU Geological Sciences major Carley Cavanaugh (with help from 2015 department graduate Matthew Costa and faculty mentor Dr. Oluyinka Oyewumi) sought to answer these questions concerning the Farmington River. Carley’s work uncovered that the likely sources of lead, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic contamination of riverbed sediments are local farms and a gas station. She and her collaborators hope to submit their research for publication in the near future. Carley’s work received an award at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Day at CCSU in May, and she received a $3000 scholarship from the Environmental Professionals of Connecticut earlier this year.

Student research changes lives CCSU. For more information on how you can be a part of it, contact Geological Sciences Chair Dr. Mark Evans at




Meet the Rock Stars, Part 10: Dr. Kristine Larsen


Name:   Dr. Kristine Larsen

Title: Professor

Year Started at CCSU: 1989

Courses Taught: AST 113 The Cosmos, AST 209 Stellar and Galactic Astronomy, AST 278 Observational Astronomy, AST 418 Astrophysics, AST 470 Extrasolar Planets and Astrobiology, FYS 104: First Year Seminar [topics include The Science of Middle-earth, The Science of The Walking Dead, Cultural Astronomy], GSCI 102 Earth and the Human Environment, HON 120 Natural Science and Society, ISCI 118 Women’s Contributions to Science, SCI 111 Elementary Physical/Earth Science

Current research projects: My research is in several different areas:

1) Variable stars: student-centered research involves the classification of individual variable stars through their light curves and physical properties; observations of sunspots and variable stars are submitted to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (of which I am currently President);

2) Science pedagogy: includes projects enhancing the preparation of science teachers and combating misconceptions in science, as well as conducting workshops in the use of a medieval astrolabe for teachers, students, and scholars in other disciplines;

3) Science and Popular Culture: myriad projects involving identifying and critiquing the use of science and depictions of both scientists and the scientific method in literature (including the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert Heinlein, Phillip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, and Andrzej Sapkowski), television (including Doctor Who, Lost, The Walking Dead, and Dominion), and film (including the Resident Evil series).

Favorite book: No contest here – The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien’s sweeping creation myth

Favorite film: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Favorite scientific term: syzygy

Something my students don’t know about me: During my first year as an undergraduate at CCSU I performed the part of Magenta in a live Rocky Horror company in Manchester. Every Saturday night at midnight we would perform the film live while the film itself played above us.

Student Receives Two Awards

[Melissa Luna being congratulated by Department Chair Dr. Mark Evans and being presented an AIPG National Undergraduate Scholarship from Professor Emeritus Dr. Charles Dimmick]

In a recent department ceremony, Melissa Luna received two prestigious awards for her excellence in and service to the field of Geology. First, Melissa received a National Undergraduate Scholarship from the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG). The essay she wrote for the scholarship application will be published in an upcoming issue of The Professional Geologist. She wrote in part:

As a child, I have always wondered how the Earth came to be the dynamic planet that it is today. After countless visits to the Philippines, I was exposed to the effects of the Samar Earthquake as well as the aftermath of the Mount Pinatubo eruption, which gave rise to my love for geology. As I came to learn over the years, our society revolves around nature. We are constantly in demand for water, energy, and other resources that all depend on geology. By studying the true nature of our planet through both my academics and my travels, I have made it my goal to make a difference by inspiring others to join me in making our planet a more sustainable environment for generations to come.

Melissa has also served this past year as the President of CCSU’s Theta Zeta Chapter of Sigma Gamma Epsilon, the Earth Sciences Honor Society, and received the Tarr Award for her outstanding service to the organization.

Melissa will be attending graduate school at Wesleyan University this fall. As part of the Earth and Environmental Science Masters Program she will be studying cores from the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. Congratulations to an amazing young woman!

Graduates Have Big Plans for Masters Degrees


[Grad School-bound! Jessica Johnson, Melissa Luna, and Matt Costa]

Three recent and current graduates in the Geological Sciences Department have been accepted into graduate programs to pursue their dreams. Jessica Johnson has been accepted into the Planetary Sciences Masters program at the University of New Mexico, where she will study the petrology of meteorites and their relationship to the formation of the solar system. Melissa will be attending Wesleyan University. As part of the Earth and Environmental Science Masters Program she will be studying cores from the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. At the University of Texas – El Paso, Matthew Costa will be completing a Masters in Geology working on a project entitled “Using Cadmium and Zinc Isotope Tools to Understand Environmental Pathways of Heavy Metals Related to Disposal of Coal Combustion Products: A Continuing Research Collaboration”.

Congratulations to all our rising stars!

Seeing Double: Student Research Presented at Two Conferences

[Graduating senior Corwin Hoover and faculty mentor Dr. Kristine Larsen]

Who says you can’t be in two places at the same time? CCSU senior Corwin Hoover’s research on variable stars was presented simultaneously at two conferences on May 6, 2016. While Corwin, an Earth Science – Astronomy concentration major, was presenting his work at the CCSU Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Day, his faculty mentor, Dr. Kristine Larsen, was over a 1000 miles away, presenting Corwin’s research to the American Association of Variable Star Observers in St. Louis, MO. Corwin’s research was an investigation into the misclassification of members of a particular class of variable stars (stars that vary in brightness).

Congratulations to Corwin as he graduates from CCSU!


One Student’s Journey


[Andy Arroyo inspecting the geology at Cape Ann]

My journey at Central started in the Fall of 2011. I started as an Earth Science Secondary Education Major. I was shy and did not know what to expect, especially of my classmates, since they were to be way much younger than I.  I soon found myself in my first Biology class.  There I meet a young lady who introduced herself and asked what my major was and continued to explain that she too was an Earth Science Secondary Education Major.  This made me very excited, because at least I knew of one person who was on the same path as myself.  Soon, she would introduce me to other students in the Geological Sciences Department, who would embrace and befriend me.

The course study was very challenging, especially for me. I am not the traditional university student who has just graduated high school. I am married and have a family.  But the support that I received, not only from my classmates, but also from the professors, has helped me greatly and allowed me to successfully complete my course studies.  There have been many times in which I sought help from professors who were not my instructors and never once was I ever turned away from any of them.  Another thing that I am grateful for, is that although the professors have office hours, we students could go and speak with them even during their off- hours. It did not matter if it was of a personal or academic matter or just to chit-chat.  For this I say Thank You to all of the professors.

I had the opportunity to graduate in the Spring of 2015 with a B.S in Earth Science, but after speaking with Dr. Evans I decided to stay on and earn my Geology specialization degree.  The work has been challenging, but very fulfilling.  A great experience that can’t be matched anywhere else, are the field exercises we conduct, whether it is in Wickham Park, East Haddam or Cape Ann.  Just look at my picture from a field exercise trip to Cape Ann, MA.  Boy, doesn’t it look like hard work?

During these field exercises not only do we learn about science, we also learn a lot about each other, including our professors.  The relationships and bonds we have formed with each other is that of a family.  We all take care of each other; whether it is studying for an exam, laboratory or field work or just lending an ear.  This can be said not only of the students but of the professors and faculty in the Geological Sciences Department at CCSU.

My time in the Geological Sciences Department is not that of a stepping stone for my career, but a place where I have built friendships and family bonds. It is a place in which I am committed and must commit to come back and help grow so others may enjoy the same wonderful experiences that I have.  My hat is off to all who have made this possible for me.  – Andy Arroyo