Why I Majored in Geology

Matti Horne ’22

I've known that I wanted to major in geology since high school, which is not necessarily the usual experience. I was lucky to take an Earth Systems Science class in my sophomore year of high school, and it just felt right. I was so excited to come to class every day, and that's a feeling that is still true now. It's such an interdisciplinary field, bringing in so many other areas of study (biology, economics, physics, anthropology, chemistry, archaeology and so much more!), and it has taught me to more deeply appreciate the marvels of our physical world. I mean, in what other major would you get to go on multi-day field trips in the wilderness of California, hold five-hundred-million-year-old fossils, and look at tiny slices of meteorites under a microscope?

I absolutely love the Geology Department—all the professors are incredible, and it's a very close-knit (but welcoming! I promise!) community. Once a week, we have Liquidus, a scheduled time where both professors and students come together, eat Trader Joe's snacks (when we're on campus), and just hang out. It makes classes, labs and field trips so much more enjoyable and memorable when you are completely at ease with the people around you.

Speaking of field trips, if you're at all interested in the outdoors, this is definitely a major to check out (but don't worry about not having enough outdoors experience—I had never been camping before getting to college, and I'm still not what some people might consider truly "outdoorsy"). There are so many opportunities to get out into the field, whether that's during classes, research programs or even internships. The summer after my first year, I participated in an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) with the Keck Geology Consortium. I learned to scuba dive, flew to Belize and spent two weeks collecting data while diving and snorkeling on the coral reefs at Ambergris Caye. I even got to present my research as the first author at the 2019 American Geophysical Conference in San Francisco! It was the most incredible experience of my life.

I firmly believe everyone should take an Intro Geology class—I promise it's way more than just "sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous." It'll give you an entirely new perspective on the world we live in and the issues we're facing, and hopefully show you just how incredible our planet is.

Daphne (Dede) Chapline ’23

A friend of mine was taking a geology course and mentioned how hands-on and immersive the learning process was. Geology students go on field trips so they can learn to read their natural environment. Each rock and outcrop is a time capsule brimming with millions of years of dynamic earth history. I realized this was exactly the kind of experience I was yearning for, so I scheduled a meeting with the head of the department. During our talk, he spoke of how broad a subject geology is, and how it incorporates all different science disciplines in order to understand earth processes and formations. After taking a couple of courses, I was hooked. The versatility of the major greatly appealed to me; although we love our rocks, the study of geology goes beyond them. Geologists study natural disasters, the evolution of life on our planet, sustainable energy, climate change, planetary development and habitability.

The Geology Department is a tight-knit community; the professors and students are all so welcoming and friendly. I feel very supported and encouraged by the professors and know that they care deeply about my personal success, inside and outside the classroom. This has been especially apparent during the pandemic: professors have been diligent about checking in on their students’ mental health. When we were sent home, they sent small rock samples to each of the majors to make us feel more connected to the department (I was given optical calcite). One professor, Jade Star Lackey, would send us drawings of cartoon rocks to cheer us up (Gary Glaucophane was a personal favorite of mine). Outside of the strong community aspect, I love the field trip component of the major. The field sites allow me to explore beautiful SoCal scenery as well as directly experience what I am learning. Finally, I believe that the major leaves a lot of room for exploration of students’ specific interests; the professors are very open to independent studies and holding electives that students feel enthusiastic about.

During my year off, I have been working on a research project which I recently presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. I studied the mineralogy and geomorphology of Eridania Basin on Mars by analyzing satellite imagery and spectroscopy data. Through this study, I attempted to better understand the geologic history of the area, particularly pertaining to events that occurred during and after most of the water was drained from the lake. This was a great opportunity to get involved in research during the pandemic, as all the data was publicly available, and I was able to talk to my professor virtually to discuss findings and questions that cropped up along the way.