If I can get students to think critically, that will have a much longer influence on them than anything else I can do.

When Rob Jacob '97 arrived at Bucknell as an undergraduate, he planned to be an engineer. But he soon discovered he preferred working outdoors most of the time. His advisor suggested he try geology. "I took a geology class in my second semester, and that was it," says Jacob, now  a geology professor at Bucknell, who specializes in non-invasive methods for studying subsurface geology. He uses ground-penetrating radar to investigate soil water moving through the subsurface without digging, which can disturb the soil, rock and water.

"The benefit of my coming from engineering to geology is that I already had the physics and math classes behind me. I became interested in geophysics, which was the topic of my bachelor's thesis," he says. After graduating and earning his doctorate, he returned to Bucknell to teach.

Jacob's colleagues and faculty mentors Mary Beth Gray and Craig Kochel encouraged him to pursue the geophysics projects that caught his interest. He uses the same philosophy when teaching his own students. As a result, he has been advising student-initiated projects on glaciers and the study of faults and bedrock to understand structural problems using gravity. "I had students use microgravity to be able to locate and better understand what the fault looked like in the Nippenose Valley. I've been working with Professor Gray on that project. The result of that research was a published paper in 2013 with a student as the co-author," he says.

Students are also helping Jacob conduct his own research by gathering subsurface water-flow data in Pennsylvania to be analyzed along with data he collected in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He hopes the project will eventually lead to the creation of devices farmers can use to determine the amount of soil water in the upper five meters of the subsurface. "It's the zone corn draws water from, and the device would help stop over-watering," he says. The device's creation is several years away.

"I enjoy being a near-surface geophysicist and that there are many projects that need geophysics and may be initiated by students," says Jacob. "If I can get students to think critically, that will have a much longer influence on them than anything else I can do."

Posted Sept. 30, 2015

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