Student Research in Environmental Science and Geology

Many Environmental Science and Geology students choose to work with a faculty advisor on an independent research project. The choice of topic is up to you and your advisor; many students join existing faculty research projects while others pursue original ideas.

Your degree of commitment in time and effort can range from a one-credit single semester project to multi-semester comprehensive Honors research.  Independent research may count for up to four (4) credits, which may be applied toward the elective credits required for your  major. Any aspect of earth and environmental science can be a subject of student research.  Some current and recent projects…

EESC Students Present at Chesapeake Potomac Regional Chapter of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Spring Meeting








Thanh-Binh Duong (’20; at right above) and Mary Hoffman (’20; at left) recently presented the results of their independent research projects at the Chesapeake Potomac Regional Chapter of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Spring Meeting in Canaan Valley, WV. The conference included professionals from private industry, academia, and government agencies who are engaged in the study and analysis of environmental problems, management and regulation of natural resources, and/or research and development. Binh’s presentation was titled “Microplastics: Presence, concentrations, and influence on toxicity of methoxychlor to Daphnia magna” and has been conducted under the mentorship of Drs. Tyler Frankel and Ben Kisila. Mary’s presentation was titled “Assessing the effects of sulfoxaflor on the physiology, reproduction, and behavior of Daphnia magna” and has been conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Frankel.

Environmental Geology student and faculty adviser study climate variability as recorded in ancient equatorial Pacific coral reefspam-grothe-andrea-moore-1

In March of 2018, Assistant Professor Dr. Pamela Grothe and senior Environmental Geology major Andrea Moore (pictured above with a core sample) visited Kiritimati (Christmas Island) to collect fossil corals and seawater samples for use in paleoclimate reconstruction as part of an ongoing project in collaboration with scientists from Georgia Tech and other institutions. Moore plans to use data from a 5,000-year-old Porites sp. core recovered from the island as part of her Honors Thesis project in 2018/2019.

Department students are conducting a study of possible soil and surface water contamination in central Virginiaabby-friedman-2

Geology major Abby Friedman (pictured to the right)and environmental science major Sarah Jordan are currently conducting a study of possible metals contamination in soils and water in selected central Virginia public buildings, public parks, and golf courses.  This research is being conducted under the supervision of Dr. Melanie Szulczewski.  Soils are being analyzed for bioavailable metals, total metals, pH, organic matter, as well as sand, silt, and clay content. Bioavailable metals are extracted with an ammonium bicarbonate-diethylene triamine pentacetic acid (AB-DTPA) solution; total metals are extracted by acid digestion. Concentrations of aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, lead, selenium, and zinc are being determined with UMW’s Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-AES) instrument. Organic compounds are being quantified using our departments new High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) instrument. Results of this study could indicate areas and sources of concern for environmental and human health in the region.  Results will be presented at professional conferences and at UMW’s annual campus-wide research symposium.

Environmental Science students study the effects of acid mine drainage on a Virginia ecosystem

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Environmental Science students Susanna Kirschner (above left) and Jenna Stockton (above right) studied the effects of acid mine drainage (AMD) on the overall health of a stream ecosystem draining an area of former pyrite (iron sulfide) mines in east-central Virginia.  Working under the supervision of Dr. Melanie Szulczewski, they have quantified heavy metal concentrations and other chemical and physical parameters in soils surrounding AMD-impacted Contrary Creek in Louisa County.  An important aspect of their work is use of a sequential extraction procedure that successively releases metal ions from soil samples according to their mobility, a process that indicates the relative stability and bioavailability of the ions.  This year, they are expanding  work to include analyses of sulfur compounds that may be present in the soils.  Data collected to date indicate the soils are generally acidic (low pH) with high concentrations of certain heavy metals. Current research is examining relationships among different parameters at the site (e.g. high acidity, sulfate concentrations, heavy metal concentrations) for possible correlations and relationships to AMD.

Geology students using microfossils to understand ancient environments Carter Moore

Carter Moore (right) and Chiara Tornabene (below) studied ostracodes (a type of microfossil) to characterize the depositional environment of the ancient sediments in which they were collected. Working with Dr. Neil Tibert and UMW’s Summer Science Institute, Carter and Chiara traveled to Nova Scotia to collect Carboniferous-age rock and fossil samples.  Their research contributed to interpretations of the paleoecology of this depositional environment, to improved understanding of the evolution of freshwater environments in the earliest Jurassic, and provided a tool to biostratigraphically correlate freshwater formations of similar age.


Chiara Tornabene in the field 1














 Other recent projects…

A few examples of recent student/faculty collaborative Environmental Science projects:

  • Study of the Macrobenthic Community of Hazel Run, Spotsylvania County,Virginia
  • Sediment, soil, and stream water contamination at an acid-mine drainage site in Louisa County, Virginia
  • Study of Forested Riparian Buffer for Reduction of Non-Point SourcePollution in the Rappahannock River Basin
  • Preliminary Ecological Assessment of Massaponnax Creek, Spotsylvania County, Virginia
  • Ecological studies within the proposed Celebrate Virginia site

Recent examples of  independent Geology and Environmental Geology student research:

  • Mesozoic Faulting in Culpeper, Virginia
  • Controls on Ion Migration in Soils
  • GPS Survey of Prince William Park
  • Digital Mapping and GIS Applications
  • Geothermometry of Virginia Piedmont Metamorphic Rocks
  • Urbanization and Enhanced Storm Hazards
  • Analysis of Metamorphic Fabrics in the Fredericksburg, Virginia Area
  • Lithospheric Plate Velocities
  • Source of Arsenic Contamination in Groundwater
  • Quantitative Evaluation of GIS Terrain Models
  • Development of dolomite in arid Hawaiian soils