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Lafayette is about to acquire a distinctive piece of equipment that will set its geology and environmental geosciences program apart from such programs at other top liberal arts colleges throughout the nation.

A grant of $300,000 from the W.M. Keck Foundation is enabling Lafayette to establish a laboratory equipped with a shallow-bed recirculating flume, a massive device that allows professors and students to create dynamic scale models of rivers.

With this device, experiments can be conducted to study relationships among sediment transport, bedforms, and flow energy, explains Dru Germanoski, professor and head of geology and environmental geosciences, who spearheaded the project. Measuring 37 feet long, 6.5 feet wide, and 2.5 feet deep, it will be installed in Van Wickle Hall. The installation is scheduled to be completed when classes begin this fall.

Lafayette’s flume project is distinctive in two ways, Germanoski says. “First of all, to the best of our knowledge, no other liberal arts college has a flume of this size. Also, our flume is designed to allow its working width to be reduced by inserting a false wall. This capability is exceedingly rare, even in flumes at large research universities, and because of it the flume will provide an unusually broad range of new research opportunities for students and faculty.”

Use of the flume will be incorporated widely into geology courses, including all four introductory courses, and it will be used in research projects year-round.

“Geology, which is often ‘the overlooked science,’ is extremely important in understanding the impact of society’s behavior on our environment, particularly in areas not easily seen or recognized by the general population. One example of this is contamination in the sediment in our rivers that finds its way into groundwater and drinking water supplies,” Germanoski says.

“Right now, students interested in environmental research must go into the field, and weather conditions and lack of transportation can impose limits on field research. Also, certain situations that arise in nature can be observed only under very specific conditions at certain times of the year. With the flume, students can simulate these situations and do research and data-collection throughout the year,” Germanoski continues.

“It’s this kind of interactive, hands-on experience that brings science to life for students. They will be active participants, not passive learners, in discovery-oriented exercises. The flume will help them learn vital lessons about their natural environment that will stay with them and entice them to become more involved in being the earth’s stewards,” he says.

Germanoski says success in obtaining the grant to install the flume stems from an exemplary collaboration of faculty and administration.

“The grant is the result of a cooperative effort among the Lafayette administration, all members of the geology department, and Diane Elliott of the office of development and college relations. The proposal would never have made it out the door without Diane’s commitment to the project. She shared the writing responsibility and was absolutely instrumental in the proposal’s success.”

Headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., the W. M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations. Established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company, the foundation’s grantmaking is focused primarily on the areas of medical research, science, and engineering. The Foundation also maintains a program for liberal arts colleges.

Categorized in: Academic News