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CORE OF THE MATTER: Levi Markwood, a Slippery Rock University geology major from Sandy Lake, collects core samples of rock outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. He extracted the samples for a student-faculty research project on continental rifting (Photo by Michael Zieg, associate professor of geography, geology and the environment).

Geology majors earn honors
for rifting research in Canada

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Geologists who want to learn more about how continents moved in the past drill a steel cylinder into the ground and examine the extracted material, like pushing a straw into a cake. Two Slippery Rock University geology majors have been honored for their award-winning geology research with Michael Zieg, SRU associate professor of geology, which focused on continental movement, called "rifting," in Ontario, Canada.

Students collected core samples of rock from the Nipigon sill - a sheet of solidified molten rock - and examined crystals in the igneous rocks to determine how they cooled 1.1 billion years ago. Understanding the cooling process sheds light on the geologic processes involved with the movement of continents, the students said.

"This has been a valuable experience because it has opened my eyes to a field of science that I knew very little about a year ago," said Andrew Ryan, a geology major from Slippery Rock. "It has enabled me to develop my research skills so that I may continue to produce more accurate and meaningful results during my future research-related endeavors."

Ryan presented his research at the 56th Annual Institute on Lake Superior Geology conference in International Falls, Minn. He won the Best Student Poster Presentation Award. Levi Markwood, a geology major from Sandy Lake, won Best Student Paper at the Pittsburgh Geological Society conference for his abstract on rifting.

"Presenting is a great way to get out and network with professionals in my field," Markwood said. "It also provides the opportunity to get feedback from those people, often providing insight on how to make a project better."

The Nipigon sill, located on the northern shore of Lake Superior, is part of the Midcontinent Rift system extending from Kansas into Canada. Geologists say the sill was formed when North America began to split apart 1.1 billion years ago, but the rifting process was aborted before the split was complete. Students studied two different sills and found visible evidence of the rifting process.