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Six senior geology majors presented their research at the joint meeting of the Northeastern and Southeastern sections of the Geological Society of America in Baltimore.

Matthew Dempsky (Surf City, NJ), received an Outstanding Undergraduate Student Poster Award. 253 undergraduate students presented posters at the meeting, and awards were given to 15 students.

Dempsky’s honors thesis involved analyzing amber samples brought back from an abandoned coal mine in the Matanuska Valley in Alaska. More than 3,000 samples were collected. They are about 55-million years old, and were formed during a hot period in Earth’s history.

Working with David Sunderlin, assistant professor of geology and environmental geosciences, Dempsky cut, polished, and cleaned the samples in the lab. This preparation allowed Dempsky and Sunderlin to examine them for inclusions, which are material such as fossils that get stuck in the tree resin before it hardens. Through this method, they found several insects, including two aphids and an ant, as well as pollen, wood, and leaf fragments. Also named as co-author on the paper is Nancy Parker ’09, who did her thesis on leaf feeding in Alaska and helped to collect samples and look for inclusions.

“I love that geology is a very hands-on science; we spend a lot of time working in the field, rather than being stuck in a lab all day,” Dempsky says. “I was always interested in science, and I suppose I chose geology because it allows you to explore so many different fields. Geology overlaps with other scientific fields, with a smattering of chemistry, physics, and biology thrown into the mix. In the realm of science, we tend to be Jack-of-all-trades. It’s really a versatile field, with a lot of real-world applications.”

Other students who presented at the conference are:

Laura Bochner (Bethlehem, Pa.) used a variety of methods to study how equatorial Atlantic climate changed over the past several glacial cycles. Her faculty mentor was Kira Lawrence, assistant professor of geology and environmental geosciences.

Liz Graybill (Carlisle, Pa.) worked with Sunderlin to examine marine trace fossils in the Dauphin Formation in south-central Pennsylvania. These are important indicators of water depth and show rapid response to changes in the local environment.

Billy Hudacek (Long Valley, N.J.) collected and analyzed gravity data to define the structural relationship between the crystalline Precambrian rocks of the Reading Prong and the surrounding Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. He worked under the guidance of Lawrence Malinconico, associate professor of geology and environmental geosciences.

Alysia Lecomte (Greenwich, Conn.), who also worked with Sunderlin, studied plant fossils found in the “Box Canyon” locality east of the Chickaloon River in Alaska.

Hilary White (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.) used sea-surface temperature data obtained from a deep sea drilling project site in the North Atlantic Ocean, along with other measurements, to study prehistoric climate change. Lawrence served as her faculty mentor.

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