Earth Sciences Graduate Receives Outstanding Alumni Award

Congratulations to Bill and Mary Moran, recipients of the 2015 Outstanding Alumni Award in the College of Arts and Sciences. Bill Moran graduated with a degree in political sciences in 1972, and Mary received her degree in geology in 1973. At the alumni reception February 6th, the couple shared some of their favorite memories from times at TTU.

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TTU President Phil Oldham presents the 2015 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award to Bill and Mary Moran. [Photo courtesy of TTU Photo Services.]

 Quoting from this Tennessee Tech press release:

Bill Moran spent most of his life raising money to help fund health care for those in need. He was the president of St. Vincent’s Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, for nearly 30 years. He has been, since 1977, a key member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

He was born in Albany, Kentucky, and lived there until he enrolled at the University of Kentucky. After two years, he transferred to Tennessee Tech.

At TTU, Bill Moran participated in student government and ROTC. He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and chairman of All-Sing, a singing competition.

Bill began his fundraising career in Tennessee. He helped to found the state chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 1980 and served as chapter president in 1984. A few years after he moved to Birmingham, Bill was named the Alabama chapter’s 1988 outstanding fundraising professional.

Since 2002, Bill has served as board member and treasurer of the association’s foundation.

Bill and Mary met while running for student senate. Both were campaigning for the same position: student senator of the College of Arts & Sciences. Both won and they married in 1971.

Mary received her bachelor’s degree in geology in 1973 and a master’s from Vanderbilt University in 1977.

She worked as a hydrologist with the water resources division of the U.S Geological Survey from 1974 to 1977. She worked to assess geothermal resource areas in 1977 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

As a low-level radioactive waste program manager for the Department of Energy, Mary travelled to the Nevada Test Site, Savannah River National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory and the Hanford Site.

Mary was a founding partner of Gallet & Associates in 1987, a multi-state engineering and environmental consulting firm. She helped write licensing legislation, and was appointed by the governor to the first Alabama board of licensure for professional geologists. She holds professional licenses in a number of states.

Mary was a member of the College of Arts & Sciences board of visitors, an advisory group that meets to build community and financial support for the college. At TTU, she was a member of the sorority Phi Mu and president of the geology club.

Together, the pair has created a scholarship endowment for Kentucky students studying in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The Morans have lived in Birmingham for 30 years. They have one daughter, Alice.

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Expedition Earth: A STEM Center Earth Science Event

This past October, the earth science program hosted their largest outreach event to date, Expedition Earth, sponsored by the TTU STEM Center. Over the course of two days, more than 270 k-12 students and their families learned about earth science phenomena. The STEM Center was transformed overnight into a virtual Natural Science and History museum. Thanks to the incredible generosity of Mr. Jerry Jacene, visitors had an opportunity to stand face-to-face with a T-Rex, Triceratops and a number of other amazing vertebrate fossils.  Additionally, each room in the STEM center hosted activities focused on geology and geography topics. Check out the photos below and stay tuned for the next earth science outreach event. [Photos courtesy of TTU Photo Services.]


Jerry Jacene, TTU alumni and vertebrate paleontologist, describes the cavity of a T-Rex tooth.


The boys reach into the T-Rex skull to feel the depth of the tooth cavity.


TTU alumni Brandon Page, right, helps out with mineral identification at the gold panning station.


A future gold prospector fills his pan with water. Sediments in the trough were collected from Coker Creek, a known area for gold panning in southeastern Tennessee.


Earth science seniors Chelsea Morphis, Joel Laine and Tyler Riggle help students create plaster molds of a velociraptor tooth.


Three young onlookers carefully study a rock sample.


Students Ashley Parkans (left) and Eric Eckart (right) explain mineral properties to an Upper Cumberland family.


Student Ryan Gardner explains how groundwater flows using a table-top model.


Earth science senior Dakota Guidry helps students create chocolate volcanoes, an activity that demonstrates the importance of viscosity on volcanic eruptions.


Randal Roberson, a senior earth science student and paleontologist, explains vertebrate fossils to visitors.


A group of children look on as Audrey Pattat describes how igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks form.


Andrew Eagar helps kids construct toothpick and clay structures before simulating an earthquake using a shake table.


Dr. Li explains basic mapping skills and geography to students in the STEM Center.

Special thanks to Sally Pardue and the staff of the TTU STEM Center for helping ensure this event was a success. Jerry Jacene and Dr. Knox were kind enough to transport vertebrate fossils to the STEM Center for display and explain their origins to interested students. Many, many TTU students and faculty assisted with the event – – thank you for helping bring earth science to the Upper Cumberland community! Finally, a big word of thanks to TTU Photo Services for photographing the event.

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2014 Field Trip to Gordonsville Mine

Mineralogy and petrology students during fall 2014 were excited to go underground at Gordonsville Mine accompanied by a special guest: TTU President Phil Oldham. Led by Dr. Leimer, the group departed campus at 7:30am and drove 40 miles to the zinc mine in central Tennessee. They met with alumni Kegan Woods*, a mine geologist. The group of eight completed safety training in preparation for going underground, and a few hours later, they marveled at the samples of calcite, sphalerite and fluorite exposed in an open vein. The best sample of the day was a piece of calcite that now adorns the President’s Office on campus.


Dr. Leimer discusses mine operations underground with TTU President Phil Oldham.

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The 2014 Mineralogy/Petrology class stands in front of the main shaft at Gordonsville Mine.


New mineral display in the President’s Office.

Special thanks to Nyrstar and Gordonsville-Elmwood operations for a safe and memorable Tech mining experience!

Are you interested in learning more about minerals and rocks? The mineralogy/petrology class is offered each fall semester by Dr. Wayne Leimer in the earth sciences program.

*Did you know that TTU alumni E. Kegan Woods is a third-generation miner? His grandfather helped put in the first shaft at Gordonsville, and if you look carefully, you might spot his dad in this video!

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Earth Science Partners with Mechanical Engineering to Build Physical Models

Over the last two years, the Earth Science department has partnered with Mechanical Engineering to construct physical models. These collaborations provide opportunities for both programs: ME senior students gain valuable design and construction experience while geology students benefit from physical models used in lab.

Project 1: The Low-Flow Sedimentary Flume

An initial partnership began in the spring of 2012 and continued into 2013. Senior ME students Alex Scott and E. Miles Brown worked to construct a 10-foot long flume that could be used in sedimentology class demonstrations. They based their flume design on construction plans available via the SERC Cutting Edge website. Working with Dr. Wolak in the geology program and Dr. Wilson in the ME department, the students modified their design to fit in the available Kittrell Hall lab space. They also communicated with local suppliers such as Herron Glass to design a stable tank that wouldn’t leak.


Senior ME student Alex Scott welds the steel frame of the flume tank.

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E. Miles Brown works on sand blasting steel pieces to be used in the tank construction.


Testing the completed flume tank for leaks or spills.


TTU ME students help deliver the steel flume tank to Kittrell Hall.

In the fall of 2014, students enrolled in Sedimentation and Stratigraphy (GEOL 4110) used the flume tank to investigate how sedimentary structures form. In particular, they were able to recreate conditions that result in sole marks such as flute casts and scours.


Geology students observe scour marks around pebbles as water recirculates in the low-flow flume.


An earth science senior carefully places pebbles for a class-designed experiment in the flume.

Project 2: The TTU Desktop Delta

In the fall of 2014, the two departments partnered again to build a Desktop Delta, a physical model used to illustrate links between sea level and clinoform progradation. Like the flume, construction plans for a Desktop Delta were available from the SERC Cutting Edge website. Senior ME students Stephen Zuccaro and Denver McCann took on the project under the guidance of Jeff Foote. In addition to modeling design ideas in CAD, they documented modifications such as a mechanism to easily raise and lower water level (photos below).

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CAD images of the desktop delta built by senior ME majors.

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An updated steel slidebar is used to control the rise and fall of the water level in the tank.


Sed/strat students use the desktop delta to recreate clinoforms in Kittrell Hall room 104.

Again, the Sedimentation and Stratigraphy course benefitted from the partnership, completing lab exercises using the Delta for sequence stratigraphic modeling. Using fine-grained sand and crushed coal, the class recreated hundreds of thousands of year of delta progradation over the span of a few hours. Raising ‘sea level’ in the tank resulted in deposition updip; lowering sea level resulted in erosion and redeposition downdip.


Clinoform progradation in the TTU Desktop Delta.

Stay tuned for future partnerships and cross-college collaborations in the Earth Science program!

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GeoClub holds Springtime Rock ‘n Bake Sales

The GeoClub held two Rock ‘n Bake sales this semester to raise money for camping trips, t-shirts and other goodies. TTU folks who visited the tables on South Patio or in the University Center had a choice of cookies, brownies, muffins or cupcakes. A number of interesting rock samples and sliced geodes were also available for sale.

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GeoClub Bake Sales 2014!

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Undergraduate Kristen Hall helps out in the TTU University Center, February 2014.

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TTU students sell baked goods and rock samples on South Patio. From l to r, Brandon Page, Audrey Pattat, Chris Thurman, Stacey Clark, Ashley Parkans, Andrew Eagar and Kristen Hall.

Thanks to everyone who contributed baked goods, samples and geodes!

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Students Present Research at Local Conferences

The dogwoods are blooming and 2014 commencement is only a few weeks away. Here in the Earth Science Department, springtime is an opportunity to celebrate student research.


Dogwood blossoms outside Kittrell Hall. Photo by P. Medlin.

This year, seven senior students participated in Student Research Day on April 10th, an opportunity organized by the TTU Office of Research. Congratulations to David Bailey, senior GIS major, who won Best Poster in the Earth Sciences division.


Presenters at Student Research Day. Front row (l to r): Marcus Vincent, Nathan Burmeister, David Hunter, Connor Salley. Back row (l to r): Cody Sutherland, Brandon Page, David Bailey.

In addition, eight students attended the Southeastern Geological Society of America (GSA) Meeting in Blacksburg, Virginia on April 10-11. Students participated in two days of overlapping oral and poster presentations.


Students and faculty at the 2014 SE GSA Meeting in Blacksburg, VA. Front row (l to r): Dr. Jeannette Wolak, Claire Brown, Audrey Pattat, Lori Shelton. Back row (l to r): Randal (Philip) Roberson, Bryan Blackburn, Cole Conger, Tyler Riggle.

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Students listen to Dr. Frank Ettensohn, an expert on Appalachian geology, at the 2014 SE GSA Conference.

TTU students and faculty presented their own work on Friday, April 11th:

Poster 42-10: FAUNA FROM A WAULSORTIAN-LIKE MOUND IN THE FORT PAYNE FORMATION (LOWER MISSISSIPPIAN) OF TENNESSEE, Bryan Blackburn and Randal Roberson. (Senior thesis advisor: Dr. Larry Knox)


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Undergraduates Randal Roberson (left) and Bryan Blackburn (right) present their research on Waulsortian-like mound structures in the Fort Payne Formation.

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Jeannette Wolak presents research results in a morning session on sedimentary geology.

Special thanks to the TTU URECA program (Undergraduate REsearch and Creative Activity) for supporting student research and attendance at the meeting. The 2015 Southeastern GSA Conference is scheduled to be held in Chattanooga, TN – – hope to see you there!


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TTU Student Helps Preserve Dino Tracks in Texas

According to the Glen Rose Reporter, Tennessee paleontologists are helping preserve dinosaur tracks for future generations. Last week, a group led by Cookeville-based paleontologist Jerry Jacene visited Glen Rose to continue field work at the Joanna’s Dinosaur Track Site. TTU undergraduate Tyler Riggle helped create trackway molds. Check out some of his photos below:

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A sauropod trackway in Glen Rose, Texas.

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TTU earth science undergraduate Tyler Riggle helps create molds of dinosaur trackways in Glen Rose, Texas.

To read more about the ongoing work at Joanna’s Track Site, click here.

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2014 Geobiology Field Trip Announced: Costa Rica

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Postcard from Washington State – Geobiology Field Course 2013

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The 2013 Tennessee Tech geobiology class in front of Mount Rainier, Washington. [Photo courtesy S. Tompkins.]

On August 10, 2013, fifteen students and three faculty members from Tennessee Tech University departed Nashville, TN for an eight-day trip to Seattle, WA. The group was part of a Spring 2013 course offered by the Biology and Earth Science Departments titled Geobiology of Northwestern Washington (BIOL 4991). The group visited several sites known for their spectacular geologic phenomena as well as unique flora and fauna. To view the trip route in Google Earth, click here.

Route map for the geobiology field class.

Days 1-2: Mount Rainier (Mount Freemont and Sunrise Point)

After landing in Seattle, the group drove south to Fife and spent two days exploring Mount Rainier. Biology students departed early (5am!) to hike near Mount Freemont in search of the elusive white-tailed ptarmigan. The massive stratovolcano was obscured by clouds for a short time; however, the second day offered spectacular views and hiking around Sunrise Point.

Sooty grouse spotted on a drive around Mount Rainier. [Photo by J. Jung.]

TTU geology students test the porosity of pumice by floating it in a nalgene bottle. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]

Spectacular outcrop of columnar basalt on the entrance drive to Mount Freemont. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]

Marmot along the trail around the base of Mount Rainier. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Day 3: Mount St. Helens

On Day 3, the group headed to the north side of Mount St. Helens. Evidence of the massive eruption in 1980 was profound as students hiked the route to Spirit Lake. In the distance, steam could be see coming from glacial bits in the active dome area. Ash deposits at the far end of the hike were kicked up by a herd of wild elk.

Panoramic view of pumice plains on the north side of Mount St. Helens.

TTU geology and biology students pose in front of the volcano.

Day 4: Olympic National Park (Hoh and Quinault Rainforests and Coast)

Leaving the Cascade volcanoes behind, the group spent two days exploring the Olympic peninsula. Day 4 began with hiking in the Hoh Rainforest, where the biology students identified plants and trees native to the West Coast.

TTU biology faculty members Dr. Dan Combs (far left) and Dr. Chris Brown (2nd from left) sit on a downed tree in the Quinault National Rainforest. Biology and geology students line up along the tree for a fun photo op. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]

Are those students in the rainforests? Or, velociraptors?!

Tennessee Tech students encircle a massive tree trunk. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]

Students and faculty gather inside an old tree in the Hoh Rainforest. [Photo by R. C. Brown.]

Along the coast, the group stopped for lunch at a series of overturned sedimentary beds. Students identified sandstones and mudstones, part of a series of ancient turbidite (= deepwater) deposits and waded into cold-water tidal pools to observe starfish.

Overturned sedimentary beds make a neat spot for a picnic lunch on the Olympic Coast. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]

A TTU geology-biology major shows off a starfish found in one of the many shallow tidal pools.

A sea otter emerges from the surf. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Tennessee Tech students explore the coast before a storm rolls through on the Olympic Peninsula.

Day 5: Olympic National Park (Olympic Mountains) and Ferry Crossing

The group spent a night in Port Angeles and headed onward to the hike in the Olympic Mountains on Day 5. Temperatures were low and students bundled up to enjoy snow-filled vistas of the high peaks.

View of the Olympic Mountains from the visitor center. [Photo by J. Jung.]

From the park, the group descended to Port Townsend to catch a late afternoon ferry. Although the ride was short (< 30 minutes), it proved to be one of the most exciting wildlife watching opportunities of the trip.

A minke whale breaks the surface alongside the ferry. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Days 6-7: Mount Baker and the Northern Cascades National Park

The last two days of the field course were spent in the northern Cascade mountains. At Mount Baker, students hiked over metamorphic and igneous terranes. Biology students were excited to get a glimpse of mountain goats in the distance as well as an American dipper.

Students of the geobiology course hike in front of Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]

Mountain goats cross a snowfield at the base of Mount Baker. [Photo by J. Jung.]

An American dipper splashes in a lake. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Dr. Jeannette Wolak, earth science faculty, looks over a geologic map of the North Cascades with geobiology students. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]

Day 8: Return Trip

After seven days of volcanoes, whales, lots of birds, and dinners at “The Poodle Dog”, TTU folks flew home to Nashville, TN. Special thanks to the Departments of Biology and Earth Science for sponsoring this memorable, informative course.

Are you interested in going on a similar trip? The TTU Biology and Earth Science Departments are teaming up again for a Costa Rica Expedition, May 2014. If interested, attend an informational meeting on Nov 21, 11-12 in Pennebaker 318 or contact Dr. Dan Combs at


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2013 Geoconclave Competition Report

The 2013 Tennessee Geoconclave Competition was held Sept 27-29 at Fall Creek Falls State Park. This year’s host was Austin Peay State University (APSU), and five undergraduate programs attended: TTU, APSU, UT (Knox), UT (Martin) and MTSU.

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In the academic portion of the event, the following Tech students participated: (1) Phillip Roberson (Fossil ID); (2) Brandon Page (Mineral and Rock ID, Geocaching); (3) Andrew Eagar (Geologic Maps, Geocaching); (4) Audrey Pattat (Structural Geology – Field Exercise); and (5) Claire Brown (Pace and Compass).


Phillip Roberson carefully identifies fossils in the morning academic competitions.


Andrew Eagar competes in the geologic maps exercise.

Several Tech students participated in the physical events of rock hammer throwing and geode rolling: Alex Burton, Lori Shelton, Joel Laine, Kolby Demers, Cole Conger, Brock Rust, Tyler Riggle and Ryan Gardner.


Claire Brown sends a rock hammer flying in one of the afternoon’s events.


Cole Conger strikes a bowling pose as he competes in the geode roll.

After several lively rounds of Rock Bowl Saturday evening, final points were tallied and the winner was announced…

IMG_6139Congratulations to Austin Peay State University on winning the 2013 Geoconclave Competition!

The TTU Earth Science Department salutes APSU’s conclave victory and looks forward to another spirited competition next fall.

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