First Stop: The Formation of Earth
In Professor Kristin Burkholder’s Physical Geology course, students take a walk through the stages of Earth’s development, starting with the Earth’s formation then wandering through 4.6 billion years until they arrive at present day.
This “walk of time” activity involves students examining 55 signs arranged chronologically along the quad. As students stop at a sign, they read about what was happening to the universe at that point in time.
“It blends nicely with what we discuss in the classroom,” says Burkholder, who is an associate professor of environmental sciences and the director of the environmental sciences and studies program. “We start the semester talking about the formation of the Universe and then how planets formed within our solar system. The sign activity helps students understand how and why different materials may end up in different locations in the solar system and on our planet. For example, why is Earth a rocky planet and not a gas giant?”
Burkholder’s walk of time activity, which was inspired by a class she TAed when she was earning her doctorate degree at Duke University, isn’t the only walk she takes with her students.
Following a path around campus—first shared with Burkholder by Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences Susan Mooney ’82, which was passed down to her by Professor Emeritus of Physics Chet Raymo—Burkholder and her students explore how geology shapes the way in which people live.
“The reason that the Ames family created their factory in Easton is related to the fact that there is a big drop in elevation in a short distance,” says Burkholder. “This change in elevation is because the bedrock that underlies lower campus is much softer than the bedrock that underlies upper campus. So when glaciers passed through campus at the height of the last ice age, the softer rock was worn away.”
Burkholder notes of the campus walk, “We’re fortunate to have a campus that is full of opportunities for scientific exploration. It takes the educational experience we’re able to offer our students to another level.”