The Department of Geosciences presents

Geology Open Night

Fall 2010

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Glaciers and Flooding and Dunes: seeing into Long Island's Past and Beneath its Surface

Dan Davis
7:30 PM Friday September 24, 2010

The strange case of polymorphism: how seemingly similar materials can have wildly different properties

Richard Harrington
7:30 PM Friday
October 22, 2010

Returning Samples from Mars

Scott McLennan
7:30 PM Friday
November 19, 2010

Earth and Space Sciences Building 
Lecture Hall (Room 001)
SUNY Stony Brook Campus

There will be Refreshments and Demonstrations after the Geology Open Night Presentations.

Admission is Free!!

Link here to be placed on the mail or e-mail list to receive announcements.

How do I get to the Earth and Space Sciences Building at SUNY Stony Brook?

Geology Open night lectures are usually on topics in the geosciences related to the current research of the faculty, staff and students at SUNY Stony Brook. These presentations are intended for:

  • those interested in new developments in the sciences

  • earth science high school students and teachers

  • undergraduate and graduate students in geosciences

  • professional geologists

In-service Credit is available for teachers attending the Geology Open Night lectures.


Glaciers and Flooding and Dunes: seeing into Long Island's Past and Beneath its Surface

Daniel Davis
7:30 PM Friday September 24, 2010
ESS 001

Using a variety of modern mapping, geological, and geophysical tools, we have come to recognize that Long Island is a very dynamic place. Since the time of the glaciers that covered it, the island has been subjected to onslaughts from the air, the land and the sea. Our rocky soil and widespread boulders are derived from the glaciers and the melt waters that flowed from them. After the glaciers retreated, winds coming off of them carried sand that made dunes and fine sediment, loess, that formed the base for some of our best soils. As glaciers melted, rising waters surrounded this area, finally turning it into an island. Over the past several thousand years, the north shore has eroded and the south shore has been constantly changing as barrier islands have migrated northward with sea level rise. To this day, winds still produce extraordinary and beautiful dunes. Hurricanes and nor’easters continue to cause sudden changes to our island’s shorelines – and they present an ever greater threat for the future. Our area’s geological history hints at other threats, including the possibility of severe earthquakes and great tsunamis. In this talk, Prof. Davis will explore how we are learning more about this island using modern tools, such as advanced mapping, resistivity, new sediment dating techniques and ground-penetrating radar.

Prof. Davis has been a member of the Stony brook faculty since 1986. His main area of research is the mechanics of plate collisions and the mountain belts formed by them. He has also worked on the geology and geophysics of nuclear arms control and on planetary tectonics. He is co-author of a popular book on amateur astronomy, Turn Left at Orion (from Cambridge University Press). About to go into its 4th edition, the book has sold over 100,000 copies. Most recently, he and his students have worked on applying geophysical tools to the study of the shallow subsurface of Long Island and its recent geological history.

The strange case of polymorphism: how seemingly similar materials can have wildly different properties

Richard Harrington
7:30 PM Friday October 22, 2010
ESS 001

How the atoms are arranged in a solid can have a dramatic effect on the physical properties they show. One example is the difference between diamond and graphite, both consist exclusively of carbon, but the differences are striking. Diamond is the hardest material known, while graphite is soft and often used as a lubricant. Different atomic arrangements of phases with the same chemical formula, called polymorphs, are everywhere in nature and the differences in their physical properties can be considerable.

The size of the material can also have an effect on the physical properties. Nanoparticles can show properties different to those of bulk materials. Gold nanoparticles have different colors depending on the size of the particle. The large surface area to volume ratio of nanoparticles can have a big effect on the ability to remove harmful species, such as arsenic, from water. Naturally occurring nanomaterials are being studied with an eye to performing this task.

In this lecture, I will explore how the different arrangement of atoms can be tailored to bring about desired physical properties and how reducing the size of a particle to the nanoscale can bring about a huge change in how it interacts with the world.
Richard Harrington received his PhD in materials engineering from the University of Sheffield in 2007. He joined the staff at the Geosciences at Stony Brook University in 2007 to work with Professor John Parise. His current research interests include structure solution of environmentally important nanoparticles using x-ray and neutron techniques

Returning Samples from Mars

Scott McLennan
7:30 PM Friday
November 19, 2010

Returning samples from the surface of Mars has been a goal of the planetary science community since the success of the Mariner and Viking missions in the 1960s and 1970s.  Landing spacecraft on Mars, collecting and packaging samples, and returning them to Earth in a manner that protects the biological integrity of both planets is technologically very challenging.  Mars sample return has always been seen as something that could be done about 10 years in the future, but that future never arrived.  Although Mars has generously delivered her own samples to Earth in the form of some 40 Martian meteorites, it is evident that these samples do not provide a representative sampling of the Martian surface and are unlikely to answer the crucial question of whether or not life ever arose on that planet.  Indeed, early reports of fossil microbes within fractures of one of these meteorites have not withstood subsequent scrutiny.  

For the past two decades, NASA’s Mars exploration program has successfully employed a "follow the water" strategy in an attempt to identify potentially habitable geological settings that could be the sites of present or past life.  Ancient habitable environments have been identified by both of the Mars Exploration Rovers - Spirit and Opportunity - and planned landed missions by both NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) hold promise for further discovery.  Vastly improved orbital remote sensing techniques also hold great promise for identifying habitable sites from orbit.  Accordingly, there is now strong support within the planetary science community and government funding agencies to obtain samples from Mars. The financial and technical difficulties are so great that it will likely require a level of international cooperation that is rarely seen in planetary exploration.  It is also now recognized that this endeavor will take as many as three mission opportunities  - or about a decade of time.  This lecture will review the current state of international planning for a Mars sample return campaign and describe one possible set of missions that could be used to achieve Mars sample return.

           Scott McLennan has been a professor at Stony Brook since 1987 and his research interests center on the chemical composition of planetary crusts and the sedimentary records of Earth and Mars.  Since about 1998 he has increasingly turned his research attentions to the chemistry of the Martian surface using data collected both by missions to Mars and in laboratory experiments.  He has been a participating scientist on the Mars Exploration Rover (Spirit and Opportunity) mission since 2002 and on the gamma-ray experiment on the Mars Odyssey mission since 2005.  He is currently co-chair of the Mars Sample Return International Science Analysis Group, sponsored by NASA and ESA.


You may also be interested in the following lectures:
Astronomy Open Night  usually the first Friday of the month,

The Worlds of Physics usually the second Friday of the month,
The Living World  the third Friday of the month and
Our Environment usually the second Sunday of the month.
Our Environment  usually the second Sunday of the Month

In-service credit is also available for teachers for attending these lectures.

All of these lectures are in ESS 001 Lecture Hall

Web pages describing earlier Geology Open Night presentations

Spring 1998Fall 1998, Spring 1999, Fall 1999, Spring 2000, Fall 2000, Spring 2001,
Fall 2001, Spring 2002, Fall 2002, Spring 2003, Fall 2003Spring 2004, Fall 2004,
Spring 2005, Fall 2005, Spring 2006, Fall 2006, Spring 2007, Fall 2007, Spring 2008,
Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010

In-service credit available for teachers and professional geologists

If your school requires that you have a sequence of educational opportunities in order to receive in-service credit, please advise them that during the Fall 2010 Semester we will be offering one-hour of in-service credit for each of the:

Three Geology Open Nights

Three Astronomy Open Nights

Three The Worlds of Physics -

Three The Living World -

Two Our Environment -


Geology Open Night, Astronomy Open Night, The Worlds of Physics and the Living World meet in ESS 001 at 7:30 p.m.

We will offer  in-service credit for the  Long Island Geologists field trip to Brookhaven National Laboratory on Saturday October 23, 2010

Information for the field trip will be available on the Long Island Geologists web site at:

There will be Refreshments and Demonstrations after the Presentations.

Admission is FREE!

Presentations are in Room 001 ESS Building SUNY Stony Brook

How do I get to the Earth and Space Sciences Building at SUNY Stony Brook?