Geology course introduces research

NDSU students work alongside faculty to get hands-on experience in the field.

Four students this year accompanied Kenneth Lepper, NDSU professor of geology, to the Agassiz Environmental Learning Center in Fertile, Minnesota, to collect soil samples from the residual sand dunes of prehistoric Lake Agassiz.

The students are part of an upper division geology course designed to introduce students to the research process.

“We’re trying to find the age of the dune field, when the dunes were forming and the ages that they were active,” said Grace Farmer, a sophomore geology student from Arden Hills, Minnesota.

After hiking to an ideal location atop one of the dunes, students documented weather, location, wind direction and temperature in their small orange field notebooks. Lepper walked them through the process of collecting samples.

Students took turns digging into the sandy soil. As they dug, Lepper showed them the different colorations in the soil that indicate different time periods.

The students took samples back to the lab to complete optically stimulated luminescence, or OSL, dating techniques to determine the age of the soil and the sand dunes.

“This is my first time doing anything in the field or hands-on research,” Farmer said. “It’s a good introduction. I’m learning a lot about different methods for research and the process of a project from start to finish.”

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