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When installation is complete in February, students will learn about erosion and other geological principles through a new shallow-bed recirculating flume, a massive device that enables creation of dynamic scale models of rivers. Purchased with a $300,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, the flume was installed in Van Wickle Hall in early February. After checking the system by pumping in the first tanks of water, the geology department introduced sediment into the device. A filtration system will be used to remove particles of undesirable sizes.

“We’re starting out with medium- to coarse-grain sand because it has the greatest versatility,” says Dru Germanoski, professor and head of geology. “You can simulate meandering and braiding rivers with that. We’ll have fine-grain gravel in storage bins that we can use to replace the sand and study high-energy river systems.”

Students in the Environmental Geology class taught by Germanoski are using the flume to learn about the interaction between groundwater and surface water. The flume is providing his Environmental Geomorphology students with insights into the relationship between flow regimens and bed forms, as well as demonstrating fluid sheer stress (water velocity) and sediment entrainment (erosion).

“I hope to have a student use it to look at the relationship between sheer stress and silt mobility,” says Germanoski, who estimates that the flume can hold 3,500 gallons of water. “We want to use samples from a pilot project involving the Bushkill Creek.”

Nathan Hawk ’02 is using the flume in honors thesis research to evaluate silt erosion and deposition. The work may provide insight into the effects of different land uses on the Bushkill Creek watershed.

Measuring 37 feet long, 6.5 feet wide, and 2.5 feet deep, the flume 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, 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.

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