Since this is the first time many students are exposed to geology, it’s a privilege to open their eyes to earth processes that have such an impact on their lives.

Bucknell's location is great for geologists, says Professor Mary Beth Gray, geology & environmental geosciences, who studies the deformation of rock on all scales - from single crystals to entire mountain belts.

Gray's passion for the earth began as an undergraduate at Bucknell, where she majored in geology and civil engineering. She's glad to be teaching at her alma mater and working closely with her students.

"Since this is the first time many students are exposed to geology, it's a privilege to open their eyes to earth processes that have such an impact on their lives," she says.

Gray often takes her students to the world-famous Bear Valley Strip Mine in nearby Shamokin, Pa., to learn how the Appalachian Mountains formed. Some of her recent research with a student there has focused on the Whaleback Anticline, a beautifully exposed example of folded rock. With a National Science Foundation grant, Gray is studying form, strain and mechanics at the anticline site.

In other research, Gray collaborates with fellow geology professor Chris Daniel on a study of Franklin marble from the New Jersey Highlands. The area, known as the fluorescent mineral capital of the world, is located on a significant fault line. By studying samples on a crystalline level, the team hopes to determine how the marble sheared and deformed adjacent to the fault. "Understanding the details of how fault zones form has implications for seismic hazard assessment and groundwater flow," she says.

Farther from home, Gray and Daniel are studying the Marqueñas Formation in New Mexico, which turns out to be hundreds of millions of years younger than scientists previously thought. "Its age and structural position hold important clues to the tectonic history of the region," she says.

No stranger to the American West, Gray spent seven years consulting for the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses and mapping the faults found in tunnels within Nevada's Yucca Mountain. She's also taken groups of students on spring break excursions to Central Utah, the Rio Grande Rift and Death Valley.

"It's total immersion in geology," says Gray, who received the University's 2013 William Pierce Boger, Jr., M.D. Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Natural Sciences. "There's a great dynamic between the students and faculty on those trips. We're all there simply because we love what we're doing."

Posted Sept. 23, 2015

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