Geography professor offers research opportunities to Weber State students

Professor Julie Rich and students doing research in the Snake River Plain, Idaho (Photo by:  Julie Rich)
Professor Julie Rich and students doing research in the Snake River Plain, Idaho. The research they conducted focused on optical dating. (Source: Julie Rich)

This last summer, undergraduate students helped do some infield work with Professor Julie Rich of the geography department. Students will be able to use these research experiences to boost their academic career.

The research was done in the Snake River Plain of Idaho in the Bruneau Dunes. Rich took the students to do some research called optical dating, which she had learned while getting her Ph.D. at the University of Oxford in England.

“Everyone has heard of radio-carbon dating,” Rich said, “but optical dating is relatively new and is quite a robust dating technique.” Rich explained that you can date things that are relatively recent and also things that are hundreds of thousands of years old.

Optical dating is also known as luminescence dating. The U.S. Geological Survey, explains it as “a form of geochronology that measures the energy of photons being released,” calculating age through the time since the item’s last exposure to sunlight or intense heat.

Through the lab work that will be done, they will try and reconstruct what the earlier climates were like through the process of optical dating.

Rich started the project because she wanted students to have infield and hands-on experience. For their research last summer they studied soil and searched for Native American artifacts..

Heidi Van Etten, an undergraduate at Weber State, was one of these students, and is grateful that she had this opportunity.

“Having this experience as an undergrad is so rare and I feel like it is so important,” she said.

Van Etten is now working on her own project, which she says will help her as she applies for graduate school.

The experience with optical dating is valuable when other universities are looking at personal work, Van Etten explained.

“This is my project and I have class experience,” she said.

But to Van Etten, there was value in her research trip outside of the work and research. The highlight of her research in Idaho was when she was able to go with other students to a sand dune before dawn. They were able to see the sun rise over the Idaho dunes.

The research team now anticipates the time when they can go to the lab to get the results they gathered from the sand dunes. As they wait, other opportunities are planned.

Rich is planning her next venture with students, a service trip to Thailand where a kitchen and dining hall will be constructed. There will also be a reservoir made to provide for bathroom and garden water for the youth and elderly.

Van Etten think that students can learn of many different opportunities to have a lot of diverse experiences if they just get to know their professors.

Rich said that she wants students to get involved in these opportunities to truly further their education.