Vassar Geology Department showcases ‘Hidden Beauty’ of earth

Image courtesy of Harrison Walker ‘26.

Just over a week ago, Vassar’s Earth Science and Geography Department put on an exhibit at the 53rd annual Hudson Valley Gem and Mineral show, showing off some of the College’s finest gems and crystals. This year, the show attracted nearly 30 separate gem dealers selling a variety of cut and uncut gems, with some additional organizations like Vassar simply putting up display cases. The show was on the weekend of September 17th and 18th, and the theme this year was “The Hidden Beauty of Rocks.” Vassar put together a beautiful set of geodes, crystal deposits and other awesome looking rocks for the exhibition. 

The premise of the exhibit was for all the rocks to have one interesting face and one relatively boring one. A mirror is installed at the back of the exhibit; this way, when you look in the case, you see the backs of several rocks with their interesting sides reflected in the mirror, adding an additional layer of zeal and perspective. The rocks themselves include sulfur, amazonite, chalcopyrite and others, alongside geodes with crystals embedded inside them. One geode (red and centered in the display case) has quartz, sphalerite and chabazite crystals embedded inside of a hematite rock. Three types of crystals in one geode! As the student that carried this rock into Gold’s Gym, the fitness center where the show was hosted, I can tell you lifting it was a doozy.

The exhibit was put together by Laboratory Coordinator Rick Jones, (whose torso and lower face are featured in the mirror) with the assistance of Alex Murphy ʼ25, who is working there this semester. Jones enlisted my help, as the recently hired geology office assistant, to set up the exhibit at the show. Now that the show is over, the exhibit is on display in Ely Hall (just past the museum), so come check it out!

Vassar’s Earth Science and Geography Department is housed in Ely Hall (pronounced eel-ee; we will correct you), just behind Main Building, and nestled in front of Smith and Pratt. It’s in the same building as the AULA, where I’ve heard upperclassmen have previously interacted with a particularly attractive medical professional for COVID-19 testing purposes. The department is small and homely and has been very welcoming to me as an interested first-year and employee there. 

Image courtesy of Harrison Walker ‘26.

Ely Hall also hosts some drawing classes as well as the A. Scott Warthin Jr. Museum of Geology and Natural History, filled with a lot of really cool science! This museum is free and open to all Vassar students, so I would recommend swinging by when you have that awkward 30ish minutes between classes. The Assistant Museum Curator this year is Elise Poniatowski ‘23; I asked about her work in the museum and she replied, ​​“I feel so lucky to get to work in the collections and continue to keep this space as special as it is. I encourage students to come look at the Mass Extinctions Exhibit on the back wall of the museum—it was a fully student run and assembled project!”

I’m currently enrolled in ESCI 151, The Solid Earth: Physical Geology with Professor Jill Schneiderman, and her class has been delightful so far. Schneiderman has been at Vassar since 1994 and said about her field: “Geology gives me a sense of humanity. When you look at the length of geologic time, humans are only a speck of that time, yet our effect on the world is profound. Studying Geology enables us to live more sustainably.” She said she teaches geology to give this humility to students.

I also spoke to the senior interns for Geography and Earth Science respectively, Andrew Miller ‘23 and Carter Mucha ‘23, about what they thought of the department. Andrew said: “Something unique about geography is that we study how social issues play out over physical space. We mainly consider the often contentious relationships between institutions of power and everyday people. It’s an incredibly versatile discipline with lots of applications.” Carter added in reference to the greater department, “The Vassar Earth Science department is a welcoming place where comfort and academics blend into an effective and supportive learning environment. Professors actively work to include everyone in the process of learning science!” 

And I almost forgot the maps! As The Miscellany News “Welcome Back” crossword pointed out a few weeks ago, Ely Hall is home to hundreds of beautiful, gorgeous maps of all kinds. I am a map nerd and proud of it, so I have spent multiple hours in this room looking through the many drawers of interesting maps. One of my favorites is a railroad map of the state of Pennsylvania that expanded from a tiny six-inch notebook to around the size of a standard Vassar dorm desk. The map curator, Yidan Xu ‘23, runs the map room and puts up a “Map of the Week” bulletin across from the faculty offices. This week’s map is “The Red Planet Mars,” a national geographic map of Mars from 1973. Please come by to see the interesting ones featured each week!

If you’re interested in the department at all, I’d highly encourage you to sign up for an Earth Science or Geography course or to swing by one of our GeoTeas every Wednesday at 3 p.m. People in the department will sit together in some cool Adirondack chairs next to Ely and talk about anything related to earth science and geography (maybe even the Adirondacks). Free tea and snacks are provided each time! We’ll also have a Night at the Museum event in late October, so keep your eyes peeled for more details there. Whether you like maps or metamorphic rocks, France or fossils, the Earth Science and Geography Department might just be the place for you.

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