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Summer of Rock

Student-researchers travel to Montana to study Earth’s surface

Julia Lee, ’25, headed to Montana in search of rock formations called dikes in the Ruby Mountains. But she faced one monumental problem: she couldn’t find the dikes that were listed on her geologic map.  

Disheartened but not defeated, Julia’s fortunes turned when she stumbled upon a rare rock with large crystals. Called peridotite, these dense igneous rocks appear as a result of a piece of the Earth’s mantle thrusting upward. 

“I’m so excited because this is 100 times cooler,” said Julia, a geology major and GIS minor from Walpole. “We knew the rock existed, but we didn’t expect to find it there.”  

These highs and lows of research came during a trip to Southwestern Montana with fellow geology major Olivia Ranck, ’24, Professor Michael Krol and Laboratory Staff Assistant Jessica Campbell, ’08. Olivia and Julia received funding from the Adrian Tinsley Program for Undergraduate Research and Creative Work and the Richard Enright Field Scholarship. Their research involves gathering samples in the field and analyzing their geochemistry on campus.

Olivia picks up a rock fragment.

Julia hopes to understand why peridotite exists where she found it, while Olivia is studying a type of basalt also found in the area. Olivia aims to determine if the basalt came from a hot spot (which causes molten rock to rise to the Earth’s surface) that created volcanic eruptions in what is today Yellowstone National Park.  

“Hot spots are still not really understood,” said Olivia, who is from Wilbraham. “Doing research like this can help us better understand geological history and processes.”  

The detective work could prove the basalt's origins or lead to further questions, but Olivia is certain of one thing: the trip was an incredible educational experience.  

“It helped me and helped Julia learn and get hands-on practice in the field of our interest that we want to use when we get into our careers,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”  

Krol, who has taken Bridgewater students to the area for about 20 years, saw in Olivia and Julia strong, independent thinkers with the dedication to carry out field research.   

“It’s about giving them the opportunity to challenge themselves and let them explore their passion,” he said. “A lot of undergraduates don’t know what it’s like in the field. … It really pushes them physically and mentally. They did an incredible job this summer. I give them kudos.” 

Olivia and Julia praised Krol’s support, leadership, and commitment to helping them grow.  

Julia bends over to examine a rock outcrop.

“I was very anxious when I first got out there,” said Julia, who hadn’t previously traveled beyond the East Coast. “Everyone made it such a comfortable and kind and safe environment.”  

Julia aims for a career in environmental science, potentially cleaning up hazardous materials spills. She appreciates receiving a well-rounded science education that stretches beyond geology to include chemistry, biology, and physics.  

Olivia hopes to study geology in graduate school, ideally in New Zealand. Even if her studies lead her across the world, she’ll rely on the strong foundation built at BSU and in the hills of Montana.   

“I’ll be using this experience for the rest of my life,” she said.

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