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Geology Rocks! Aspiring Scientists Visit USU's Microscopy Core Facility

Thursday, Mar. 31, 2016

USU faculty demonstrate scanning electron microscope

From right, FenAnn Shen, manager of USU's Microscopy Core Facility, and USU Geology faculty member Alexis Ault demonstrate the facility’s scanning electron microscope to visiting 5th and 6th grade students.

USU Geology professor Jim Evans answers questions

USU Geology professor Jim Evans answers questions from 5th and 6th graders visiting campus from Perry, Utah's Promontory School for Expeditionary Learning.

If you want to learn about geology, the first thing to do is go outside and find some interesting rocks.

That’s the advice Utah State University professor Jim Evans gave to 5th and 6th grade students from Perry, Utah’s, Promontory School for Expeditionary Learning, who visited USU’s campus March 30.

USU Geology faculty member Alexis Ault organized the learning tour, which featured visits to the university’s Microscopy Core Facility and the Department of Geology’s stable isotopes laboratory.

Ault and her students conducted field trips with the charter school’s youngsters earlier in the year near their Box Elder County campus, which lies in the shadow of the Wasatch Fault and overlooks Willard Bay.

“And those are exactly the areas we’re studying,” says Ault, assistant professor. “During the students’ Logan visit, we looked at highly magnified samples from the Wasatch Fault and discussed stromatolites of the Great Salt Lake.”

Gathered around the MCF’s scanning electron microscope, Ault and the youngsters viewed fault rock samples magnified up to 300,000 times their original size.

“What does it look like?” Ault asked the students.

Answers included “clouds,” “really thick fog,” and “a big avalanche of snow.”

“These rocks have a story to tell us,” Ault said. “If we can understand how the Wasatch Fault has evolved over time, we can learn about the history of the fault’s earthquakes.”

The young students also visited the department’s teaching labs and learned about tools geologists use in their studies.

Ault returns to the Perry school this spring, when she’ll take the youngsters on a hike to look at the Wasatch Fault.

“Hands-on learning helps students understand the many ways science is all around them,” says Ault, who is principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant funding her study of tectonics. “Getting students excited and engaged in science at a young age is very important and encourages young people to think about college and becoming scientists.”

Related links:

Contact: Alexis Ault, 757-784-6452,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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