It’s easy to think of geology in a big picture setting but have you ever imagined geology on a microscopic scale? The Beta Rock Team definitely does. Once a section of rock is described and collected in the field it’s brought back to the lab, there samples are cleaned and polished. Cleaning and polishing helps make certain characteristics easier to spot and revealing possible unique beds that were unseen before but to gain an even more in depth understanding of the composition you must take an even closer look, that's where thin sections come in.
Depending on your sample the first step to creating a thin section will be cutting it to preserve any identifying characteristics and to about the size of a Jenga block. Once your hand sample is prepared it’s time to smooth the side you will be exposing to the microscope slide. This is one of the most important steps because if a sample is not perfectly smooth once the epoxy is applied and dried it can raise one side of the rock off of the slide causing a failure once the excess is cut off. You can sand it by hand on progressively finer medium, ranging from 200 to 800 grit.
The slide as well is often ‘frosted’ with the same grit used to smooth the sample. The glass slide you will glue the rock to must be flat in order for the rock section to end up with a constant thickness. Next a two part epoxy is mixed and applied evenly to the sample before pressing the slide onto the epoxy. Significant pressure must be applied to ensure air bubbles are forced out and a strong bond is formed. Once dry a most of the sample will be cut off using the grinding wheel leaving a thin section of sample behind. Lastly the sample must be ground down until only a single grain occupies any space at any given time.
While this process may sound simple it is very time consuming and detail oriented. There are many things that can cause a slide to fail and unfortunately you often won’t know until hours into the process. However when successfully completed you can gain a quite an understanding of your sample. Whether you use a regular microscope to identify dominant grain size or micro fossils or a petrographic microscope to determine what minerals are present in a sample thin sections can help you take a closer look.
On Tuesday, November 28th, UNI hosted a meeting with ISGC to help further the UNI-NASA connection. I was fortunate enough to be asked to share my experience as an undergraduate student collaborating with ISGC.
In preparing for the presentation, I had a chance to think back on the past few years with the BETA Project. I started out working with BETA as the webmaster, creating, building, and designing all aspects of this website. From there I joined the research team as well and had the chance to work in the aerosol chamber lab, go into the field, collect rocks (get covered in mud in the process), and follow the process of taking the raw rocks to the point where we could drill into them (with diamonds) to collect powders for analysis. I also did my first research poster presentations at conferences! Going into my senior year I didn't know if I would have time to do anything besides maintain the website, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that if you are willing to help out, there is always something to do on the BETA Project. During spring break, I went with the team to Ohio State University and worked in a clean lab for a week, plus did some outreach at a local school to help get students interested in science research! It was incredible and these past few years have been incredible. This research project has provided me with so many opportunities that I am so excited to take to my future classrooms, and I feel very privileged to have been involved so much over the past three years.
Myself, Tomas, and Dr. Sebree at the UNI-NASA Connection Meeting
It has been a great time creating and maintaining this website over the past few years, I know Nicole Bishop will do an excellent job in the future, and so it is time for me to say farewell as I head off to student teach in the spring. I know I am excited to stay updated with the BETA Project in the future, and I hope you all keep doing the same! This project is so impactful in so many, diverse ways.
--Jessica Wayson, BETA's Webmaster 2015-2017
On this page we'll post updates of the BETA Project's progress- stay tuned!