Science Cafe - Armchair Geology

Science Café

Science Cafés help to promote scientific literacy by encouraging relaxed, open conversations among scientists and nonscientists of all ages.  For over a decade at the Gillespie, those conversations typically took place in the museum, with light refreshments and opportunities for browsing current exhibits.  In spring of 2021 though, to accommodate the pandemic, we created the Armchair Geology Series, co-sponsored by the Department of Environmental Science and Studies, which kept the focus on conversation, but invited visitors to join online live-streamed programs that took us, virtually, into the field with geologists from across the southern US—from the sedimentary wetlands of our own central Florida to a metamorphic core complex in central Texas. (To watch Episodes 1-4 of the inaugural 2021 series of recorded live-streamed Armchair Geology talks, see video links below.)

This semester our plan is to return to hosting Science Cafés in the museum.  With luck, our upcoming Cafés will be in-person, with the option for others to join by Zoom.  Our Spring 2022 presentations will continue the Armchair Geology Series by bringing you, completely mud and spacedust free, another slate of exciting field researchers--from an underwater geoarchaeologist to two out-of-this-world planetary scientists!  You won't want to miss it!   

To receive email updates about our Spring 2022 season of programs, we invite you to sign up for our mailing list!

Dates at a Glance

Spring 2022

  • February 17 - Armchair Geology Series - Florida Underwater Archaeology with geoarchaeologist Morgan Smith, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. 
  • March 17 - Armchair Geology Series - Roadside Geology of Earth's Moon with lunar scientist Stephen Elardo, University of Florida.
  • April 14 - Armchair Geology Series - Mars Sample Return Mission with Mars scientist Amy Williams, University of Florida.

(final details to be determined - join our mailing list for updates!)

Spring 2021 - event recordings now available

Spring 2022

February 17 - Underwater Archaeology

Dr. Morgan Smith underwater archaeology underwater archaeology

Dr. Morgan Smith; underwater archaeology specimen collection & data recording.

"Florida Underwater Archaeology" with geoarchaeologist Morgan Smith, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga; 5:00 - 6:30 p.m. in the RELC.

For our first presentation this spring, we welcome Dr. Morgan Smith from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.  Join us to learn about Smith's underwater geoarchaeological field research on now-inundated prehistoric landscapes.  He will discuss his experiences finding, testing, and excavating these unique archaeological sites, and his role in developing new technologies and methods to locate and characterize these resources more precisely and efficiently.  His presentation will summarize work done by his research team as well as detail other current underwater archaeological efforts in the field of submerged landscapes. Cosponsored with Stetson's Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience (IWER) and the Department of Environmental Science & Studies.

Dr. Smith received his PhD in Anthropology from Texas A&M University, where he studied in the Center for the Study of the First Americans. Prior to this, he worked for the Southeast Archaeological Center of the National Park Service in the section 106 compliance division. Smith has over a decade of experience in underwater and terrestrial archaeology, and has directed multiple full-scale geoarchaeological excavations of underwater prehistoric sites as well as Phase I and Phase II surveys of terrestrial and submerged lands throughout North America. His contributions to underwater archaeology include efforts to develop methods and models to more accurately and reliably locate underwater prehistoric sites, with an emphasis on mobile forager societies. He has conducted archaeological and anthropological research in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, Nevada, Mexico, and Costa Rica.

(Reservations required and attendance will be limited to ensure social distancing--RSVP to the museum at: [email protected] to reserve your spot today or to request the Zoom link!) Masks will be required of all visitors.

Cultural Credit for Stetson Undergraduates

March 17 - Lunar Science

Dr. Stephen Elardo moon geology maps

Dr. Stephen Elardo; lunar geology maps, usgs image.

"Roadside Geology of Earth's Moon" with planetary geochemist and lunar scientist Stephen Elardo, University of Florida; 5:00 - 6:30 p.m. in the RELC.

Dr. Elardo is an Assistant Professor and NASA Early Career Fellow in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Florida in Gainesville and the PI of the Florida Planets Lab. He's a petrologist, geochemist, and planetary scientist that uses a variety of experimental and analytical techniques and sample types to answer large-scale questions about the origin and  evolution of the terrestrial planets. His research interests focus on the processes by which planets formed and then separated into a core, mantle, and crust.

In his talk, Dr. Elardo will discuss the major features of lunar geology: What kinds of rocks do we find and how did they form? What’s in the Moon’s interior and how do we study it? What kinds of features do we see on the lunar surface?  Dr. Elardo’s hope with this lecture is that the next time you go out and look at the Moon, you’ll have a much stronger appreciation for what a rich and complex world it is.  “I’ve been studying the Moon professionally for almost 15 years, and the more I learn about it, the less I feel sure I really understand it,” Elardo explains.  “But hopefully I can give you a window into what we DO know about the Moon!”

Elardo earned his PhD with Distinction from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico before moving to the Geophysical Laboratory, part of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, for his post-doc. He specializes in using high-temperature and pressure experimental techniques to recreate the conditions inside rocky planets on laboratory scales and combing the results with detailed studies of planetary materials and non-traditional stable isotopes to gain a more complete picture of planetary evolution.

Cosponsored with the departments of Environmental Science & Studies, Chemistry, and Physics; and the NSF S-STEM scholarship grant (Cohort-Based Interdisciplinary Learning to Increase Retention and Graduation Rates of Undergraduate Students in Science, Technology, and Mathematics).  (Reservations required and attendance will be limited to ensure social distancing--RSVP to the museum at: [email protected] to reserve your spot today or to request the Zoom link!) Masks will be required of all visitors.

April 14 - Mars Science

Mars rover image Dr. Amy Williams Mars rover image

Dr. Amy Williams; the Curiosity rover exploring Mars.

"Mars Sample Return Mission" with astrobiologist and geobiologist Amy Williams, University of Florida; 5:00 - 6:30 p.m. in the RELC.

For our third presentation this spring, we welcome Dr. Amy Williams from the University of Florida.  Join us for a presentation on Williams's research with the NASA Curiosity rover science team and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument team, exploring the distribution of organic molecules on Mars’ surface.  She will also discuss her work as a Participating Scientist on NASA’s Perseverance rover mission, which is collecting samples that can one day be returned to Earth.  Come learn the fascinating reasons why Dr. Williams believes "NASA’s search for life beyond Earth, and ancient life on Mars, will revolutionize our understanding of Mars, life on Earth, and our place in the Universe.”  Cosponsored with the departments of Environmental Science & Studies and Biology; and the NSF S-STEM scholarship grant (Cohort-Based Interdisciplinary Learning to Increase Retention and Graduation Rates of Undergraduate Students in Science, Technology, and Mathematics).

Dr. Williams is an assistant professor of geology at the University of Florida. She is an astrobiologist and geobiologist, and her research interests include the formation and preservation of physical and molecular biosignatures in terrestrial environments as an analog for putative biosignature formation on Mars. She has been a member of the NASA Curiosity rover science team since 2009, and currently works with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument team as a Participating Scientist to explore the distribution of organic molecules on Mars’ surface. She is also a Participating Scientist on NASA’s Perseverance rover mission. She received a nomination in 2017 for the Maryland Academy of Sciences Outstanding Young Scientist Award, a 2021 UF Research Promotion Initiative award, and a nomination for the 2021/2022 UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Faculty Adviser/ Mentor of the Year Award. She also works toward increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the geosciences and STEM.

See New York Times article on the Perseverance rover landing anniversary with comments by Dr. Williams.  

(Reservations required and attendance will be limited to ensure social distancing--RSVP to the museum at: [email protected] to reserve your spot today or to request the Zoom link!) Masks will be required of all visitors.

Cultural Credit for Stetson Undergraduates

Spring 2021 (Archived Videos)

Wetlands Geology

Dr. Ben Tanner; Stetson students Cole Orsini and Casey Ramey at the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center, DeLand

Episode 1 - Wetlands Geology (watch 2/24/21 event recording)

"Coring 101:  Everything the Armchair Geologist Needs to Know" with wetlands geologist Ben Tanner, and Stetson undergraduates Matt Fairchild, Cole Orsini, Casey Ramey, and Megan Vincent

Stetson University’s environmental geologist, Ben Tanner, joined by a team of his undergraduate researchers, will present the first in the Gillespie Museum’s Science Café series, this spring focused on Armchair Geology. Their presentation, “Coring 101: Everything the Armchair Geologist Needs to Know,” will explore the different ways that earth scientists extract sediments from the ground and will also provide a picture of all of the fascinating information that these sediments can provide about past changes in Earth’s climate. Participants will travel virtually with the presenters into the field as they recover sediments from a number of challenging environments around the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center and will also be the first to hear about fascinating new findings that the team has recovered locally from the > 15,000 year old deposits from Wekiwa Spring.

Ben Tanner is associate professor and chair of Environmental Science and Studies. His studies began with an anthropology degree at Florida State University, continued in Quaternary and climate studies at the University of Maine, and culminated in a Ph.D. in geology at the University of Tennessee. His research continues to focus on how humans interact with the environment. He currently uses the tools of geology to study wetlands and how they respond to climate and environmental change.

His undergraduate team is multi-disciplinary. Two of them, Matt Fairchild and Casey Ramey, are student staff members of the Gillespie Museum. Casey is a sophomore Environmental Studies major at Stetson with a concentration in Cultural Geography. Matt Fairchild is an Environmental Science major at Stetson with a concentration in Environmental Chemistry, currently conducting senior research on the stable isotope geochemistry of the sediment record preserved at Wekiwa Spring. Cole Orsini is an Environmental Science major at Stetson with a concentration in Geospatial Analysis and a minor in Biology. His senior research examines the clastic granulometry of the sediment record preserved at Wekiwa Spring. Megan Vincent, a Biochemistry and Environmental Science double major, is completing her senior research on the organic geochemistry of that sediment record.

Dr. Tanner explains the advantages of his research team’s approach: “I’ve always enjoyed working with a team of students in the field. Sediment core work lends itself well to student projects because many different types of analysis can be conducted on the same core. Therefore, everyone has their own individual project while working as part of a team towards a larger goal.” Casey Ramey describes her experience in the field: “I enjoy getting to know the earth beneath my feet through research, whether it’s pulling soil cores, timing a water percolation test, or analyzing data in ArcGIS.” And Matt Fairchild reflects on the moments he can spend with the team, virtually or in situ: “Spending all this time at home this past year has been a challenge, but it has made me cherish the memories that I do have at Stetson so much more."

(virtual live-streamed; watch Feb 24, 2021 Armchair Geology - Wetlands event recording)


Dr. J.P. Gannon

Episode 2 - Hydrology (watch 3/31/21 event recording)

"How Do We Measure Tiny Mountain Streams? And Why?" with hydrologist J.P. Gannon, Virginia Tech University

J.P. Gannon, Collegiate Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, will present "How Do We Measure Tiny Mountain Streams? And Why?" His presentation for the second in the Gillespie Museum's Armchair Geology series is on the what and why of measuring "little rivulets of water, in which you can't even float!" He teaches environmental informatics in Virginia Tech's Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation program. His presentation will address how hydrologists measure these systems to quantify their health and to determine how they work—from streamflow and groundwater to stream chemistry and temperature—along with some of the fun idiosyncrasies that come along with doing this kind of fieldwork. "I hope participants come away with an appreciation of the importance of headwater streams and understand some of the interesting implications of some of our simple measurements."

J.P. started his science education with a BS in physics at The College of New Jersey, then moved on to an MS at Virginia Tech in hydrogeology, and then finally a PhD at Virginia Tech in catchment hydrology.  He has worked in headwater streams in the mountains of New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia.  His research interests today include investigating drivers of streamflow generation across scales, whether in a 100-acre watershed in the Virginia mountains or in large rivers across the United States. "I love that I get to tromp around in pretty places in the mountains and also work with technology.  I feel just as at home writing code in front of a computer as I do digging a hole to install a well on a steep slope in the woods." Geology in the field, he explains, "isn't always low tech and sometimes 'the field’ is your computer."

(virtual live-streamed; watch March 31, 2021 Armchair Geology - Hydrology event recording)

Structural Geology

Dr. Cheryl Waters-Tormey

Episode 3 - Tectonics & Structural Geology (watch 4/7/21 event recording)

"Structural Geology ‘Easter Eggs’ and Landslide Hazard Studies in the NC Mountains" with structural geologist Cheryl Waters-Tormey, Western Carolina University

Structural geologists specialize in translating the language of plate tectonics written in the earth’s crust and mantle. These translations improve understanding of plate tectonic processes, such as those that created the crust underlying Florida and left it attached it to North America as Pangea pulled apart. They improve understanding of natural hazard processes, such as earthquake frequencies within active plate boundaries and landslide distributions over a mountainous landscape.

Cheryl Waters-Tormey, PhD, Associate Professor of structural geology at Western Carolina University, will present “Structural Geology ‘Easter Eggs’ and Landslide Hazard Studies in the NC Mountains.” This free Science Café is third in the Gillespie Museum’s Armchair Geology series at Stetson University. Waters-Tormey will be discussing ongoing research documenting patterns of geological structures in the bedrock of the Hickory Nut Gorge area. Since outcrops are relatively rare in heavily vegetated western North Carolina, she will also discuss how field-based methods are augmented with remote sensing data.

Waters-Tormey says, “This project is rooted in standard structural geology field methods, which means geology undergraduates have gained real-world research experience while practicing fundamental field methods they’d need for many earth science career paths. Additionally, our working hypotheses are partially based on information gained from emerging technology and recent southern Appalachian tectonic history research, neither of which initially had anything to do with landslide hazards. This is an excellent example of how fundamental STEM research can be applied to address today’s challenges.”

Waters-Tormey received her doctorate in structural geology at the University of Wisconsin and Master of Science at the University of North Carolina. Her B.S. in Geology is from Duke University. Waters-Tormey’s research in structural geology focuses on macroscale brittle and ductile deformation patterns, and on plate tectonic history of the southern US Appalachians and central Australia. She says, “I became a geology major because I loved to travel, and discovered how landscapes and single rocks tell stories that are billions of years old or just days old. Rocks are the only record of Earth’s internal deep, slow and vast processes. Reading and using this record to answer questions and discover others, are still awe-inspiring to me. The moments when students first sense this too are the best parts of teaching!”

(virtual live-streamed; watch April 7, 2021 Armchair Geology - Structural Geology event recording)

Metamorphic Uplift

Ethan Fagan at the Llano Uplift, Texas

Episode 4 - Metamorphic Uplift (watch 4/22/21 event recording)

"Granites in the Llano Uplift of Central Texas" with geology senior Ethan Fagan, University of Texas - San Antonio, and Natural Bridge Caverns, San Antonio

The Llano Uplift is a geological wonder in the middle of Texas that features outcrops of colorful, glowing granite from the Precambrian era that predate the oldest dinosaurs. The geologic record of the Llano Uplift contributes important information to our understanding of the North American tectonic plate--the layer of rock, made up of the earth's crust and uppermost mantle, that underlies our continent. The igneous granites found in this area of Texas represent the oldest rock exposures in the state. The area also provides evidence of the development of a significant metamorphic core complex, making the Uplift a pertinent puzzle piece in interpreting the state's geologic history. (Metamorphic rock is rock that has been transformed from a different type of rock by heat, pressure, or other natural occurrences. Igneous rock is formed from the solidification of magma or lava.)

Ethan Fagan, a geology senior at The University of Texas at San Antonio, will be discussing "Granites in the Llano Uplift of Central Texas" during a live-streamed event on Thursday, April 22, 5-6 p.m. This free Science Café is the fourth and final presentation in the Gillespie Museum’s spring 2021 Armchair Geology series at Stetson.

During the Fall 2020 semester, Fagan donated some llanite specimens he had collected to the Gillespie Museum’s permanent mineral collection.  Llanite is named after Llano County in Texas, and is an igneous rock that contains blue-quartz crystals. He also gifted the museum with perthitic feldspar, a light gray- and orange-colored stone. 

Fagan will be speaking on the origin and nature of the metamorphic core complex of the Llano Uplift, and its bordering rock formations, the Streeter and Grit plutons.  He will be presenting his research on the plutons (deep-seated intrusions of igneous rock), along with methodology for processing rock samples in a laboratory to determine their age and composition.  Fagan’s presentation will also include his field investigations with a team of fellow students, led by Walter Gray, PhD, a faculty member at The University of Texas, San Antonio who is part of the Geoscience Pathways Program. "It has been an exciting experience to explore and conduct research on the Llano Uplift," said Fagan. "I’m thrilled to be joining the ranks of other researchers in the field of geology."

In addition to his work on the Llano Uplift, Fagan educates visitors and tour guides at Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio, where he is training to become a spelunker.

(virtual live-streamed; watch April 22, 2021 Armchair Geology - Metamorphic Uplift event recording)