Monday, June 3, 2013

Research Rocks: Randolph student and high school assistants making discoveries in Randolph's geological collection

A Randolph College senior and two E.C. Glass High School students are spending this summer transforming a geological collection with thousands of rocks and minerals.

They are cleaning, sorting, identifying, and labeling items in Randolph’s collection to make them more useful for education and research. Mimansha Joshi ’14, a Randolph student from Nepal, is leading the project.

“If we clean, identify, and archive them, they will be accessible not only for students and professors here, but also for other researchers in the region,” Joshi said.

The College’s collection of rocks and minerals is part of a larger natural history collection that includes bird, mammal, and insect specimens, many of which date to the late 1800s. Students started updating the collection and repairing specimens over the past couple of years, led by Emily Smith ’12, who now serves as a curatorial coordinator for the collection.

There are more than 1,000 pieces in the geological collection. “Some of the specimens are likely very rare, since some are from regions where mining and collecting are now restricted,” Smith said. “It is far too valuable an asset not to be catalogued and stored carefully.”

Galen Shen and Annemarie Taheny, rising juniors at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, are assisting Joshi in cleaning and organizing the rocks and minerals.

Shen said that with her mother, Karin Warren, and stepfather, Marc Ordower, teaching at Randolph and working with the College’s Summer Research Program nearly every year, she has always wanted to participate. But they always told her she was too young. This year, her mother, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies, became the faculty sponsor for Joshi’s project and asked Shen if she would like to help.

Shen hopes to someday turn her research toward the skies as an astronomer, but she was happy to have the opportunity to start with researching rocks. “I’ve always had an interest in research in general,” she said.

Shen invited Taheny, a friend of hers, to participate in the project as well. “I’ve never done a research project before, but I’m interested in going into science,” she said.

Shen said this project has helped expand on what they have been learning in school. “We both had earth science, so we know in general about different types of rocks, but this is much more in depth,” she said.

The project began with a mystery this summer: Many of the rocks and minerals in the collection have stickers with numbers written on them, but no one knows what the numbers mean. Joshi believes there must be a list somewhere. The research team has combed the attic of Martin Science Building and the archives of Lipscomb Library without luck yet, but they plan to keep looking. “Our mission is also to find the key to all those labels,” Joshi said. As they organize and identify the rocks, Joshi will enter them into an electronic database for the natural history collection.

Joshi is sharing stories and photos related to the research here on the Randolph College Natural History Collection blog.