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No Such Thing as a Typical Day As a geology summer research assistant in Crete, Greece, no two days were the same for Chantal Iosso '20.

“This experience will probably lead me to do more research in the future, likely with some of the skills I’ve acquired this summer.”

— Chantal Iosso ’20

Hometown: Falls Church, Virginia
Majors: Geology and Environmental Studies

Q: What did you do for the summer?

My summer opportunity involved a total of 10 weeks of work with Professor Jeffrey Rahl in the Geology Department. First, we spent two weeks in Crete collecting 12 samples of peridotites and serpentinites from the uppermost unit. These rocks used to be part of the floor of an ocean that closed as the African plate subducted beneath the island. For the other eight weeks, back in Lexington, I analyzed the crystallographic preferred orientation of minerals in these samples, which will provide more information about the deformation history of the uppermost unit. This research was funded by a Mellon Grant and the R. Preston Hawkins IV Geology Award.

Q: What was your favorite part of working in Greece?

It’s difficult to pick what I liked best. The island is beautiful: beaches that lead to crystal clear water, dramatic topography with gorges and mountains, clear blue skies. On a more academic note, it was amazing to see such a variety of rock types in such a small area, all telling the story of plate movements and terrain millions of years ago. On the first day, we drove through four different units right next to each other which tracked the closing of an ancient ocean.

Q: What did an average day for you look like?

One of the best things about this research was that there wasn’t really an average day; I did a huge variety of different things. While we were in the field in Crete, the typical day started with data logging from the previous day at breakfast. Then we’d consult our maps, hop in the van, and drive to an outcrop.

Once we arrived, we used our hammers and chisels to extract samples, and we used our hand lenses to try to identify whether the sample was sufficient for our needs. If it was, we’d take some photos, jot down the orientation of the sample, and bag it. Then we’d go back to the maps and the van, and lather, rinse, repeat until dinner, which usually involved gyros and some fantastic sunset views over beautiful blue water.

Back in Lexington, I spent a few days slicing the rocks into chips on the rock saw. While waiting for the chips to be processed and polished, I read articles and got ready to interpret my samples. Once my samples returned, I’d use the scanning electron microscope and electron backscatter diffraction technique to analyze them.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced?

The rocks I am studying are part of an ophiolitic complex, or section of ocean floor that has been emplaced on land, on Crete. Outcroppings of this complex are relatively rare. Additionally, the papers that we were using to guide us to the outcroppings often didn’t have roads marked on the map, and the road map didn’t have outcroppings marked, so trying to find the roads to the outcroppings proved a challenge.

Another problem: The rocks I’m studying, peridotites, easily weather at the earth’s surface and can undergo serpentinization, which uses up the minerals of interest. This meant that once we found the outcrop, we had to search for a relatively unaffected sample. There were some days that we spent more than eight hours searching and only gathered one or two samples. However, we did manage to get a few good samples that will provide interesting data. Having succeeded despite the difficulty makes the results even more rewarding.

Q: Who served as a mentor to you this summer, and what was the best thing they taught you?

Professor Rahl also taught my introductory geology class, so between that and this summer’s research, most of what I know about geology comes from him. This summer in particular I learned a lot about mineral identification and lab tools, such as the EBSD, from him.

Q: Has this experience impacted your studies or future plans in any way?

As a sophomore, I’m not entirely sure where I will be headed three years from now, but this summer’s experience provided useful insight in geology research. This experience will probably lead me to do more research in the future, likely with some of the skills I acquired this summer.

Q: Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?

In-depth research over the summer adds dimension to a specific subcategory of geology that even an advanced class can’t provide. The amount of background reading and the hands-on elements result in more learning, which results in more questions and then even more learning. And of course, working close to a professor is extremely educational. Going to Crete doesn’t hurt either!

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