From Volcanic Eruptions and Geological Wonders to the Origin and Diversity of Microbial Life

Lauren Hinkel | EAPS News
Thursday, October 11, 2018

MIT incoming first year students experience geology and deep time of Yellowstone National Park through the lens of an MIT Earth scientist during DEAPS.

Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons boast incredible, natural splendor with over 10,000 thermal features, making it an ideal location for incoming first year students at MIT to build an interest-oriented community and learn about earth science from geology experts before classes commence.

Every year, MIT welcomes freshmen with a pre-orientation program (FPOP) that introduces students to each other and the Institute’s diverse research. Naturally, the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science (EAPS) illustrates this, bringing distinct and interdisciplinary sciences together in one place. While the scope of EAPS research varies from the granular to encompassing perspectives, it all informs our understanding of our universe. This year, students interested in phenomena of the natural world joined the department on two FPOP trips, discovering EAPS (DEAPS): one to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, and the other to New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington to explore extreme weather and climate.

The Yellowstone course engaged students through hands-on exploration in the field. Over eight days, students immersed themselves in geologic beauty while focusing on its geomorphology, geobiology, and petrology. They pitched tents in their “classroom,” camping and cooking around a bonfire, preparing for a fun day of rigorous hikes and great views.

With the help of Tim Grove, the Robert R. Shrock Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, the students were able to make headway into the park and the field of geosciences. Hotspots, caldera, geyser basins, cliffs, canyons, and a mud volcano were a handful of sites that the freshmen checked off their viewing list. Along the way, Grove and the TAs provided evidence and context for the structures set before them, discussing plate tectonics, volcanism and the rock cycle to extremophile cyanobacteria living in hot springs, glaciation, paleoclimates and geochronology.

During the car rides back to camp, a rotating subgroup of students prepared skits, raps, dances and songs covering the day’s findings that would be presented in the evening, fireside. Meanwhile, other groups manned the cooking and cleaning stations.

By the end of the trip, students had developed lasting memories—a grounding in basic earth science and friendships that would last into the semester and, for some, the duration of their stay at MIT.

A special thanks to the TAs and staff who provided geological insight and sage advice for a successful career at MIT: Grace Bryant, Apisada Chulakadabba, Julia Clarke, Megan Goodell, Megan Guenther, Hannah Ledford, Zoe Levitt, Emma Rutkowski, Megan Jordan, Patrick Beaudry, Stephanie Brown, Max Collinet, Sam Goldberg, and Maya Stokes.

Photos: courtesy of Maya Stokes and DEAPS participants