Geology Grad Accepted into Michigan Tech Program

Marine Foucher
Marine Foucher

Las Vegas, NM — New Mexico Highlands University geology graduate is headed for a geophysics doctoral program at Michigan Technological Institute, one of the top research universities in the country.

The 24-year-old native of Lisieux, France graduated in May 2012 with a master’s degree in geology and a 3.9 GPA.

For her master’s thesis at Highlands, Foucher studied the anatomy of the extinct Cienega cinder cone volcano in the Cerros del Rio Volcanic Field southwest of Santa Fe, N.M. Highlands geology professors Michael Petronis and Jennifer Lindline were Foucher’s thesis advisers.

“Cinder cone volcanoes are commonly envisioned with a simple magma feeder geometry such as a dike or pipeline system transporting molten rock from a deep reservoir to the eruptive vent,” Foucher said. “In my research, I tested the hypothesis that small volcanic conduit systems are inherently more complex and involve numerous magma feeder channels.

“We sampled different parts of the volcano and analyzed the rock samples back at Highlands in the paleomagnetic lab. My main finding was that magma was in a secondary conduit flowing away from the main conduit. One important purpose of volcanology is to understand and model the behavior of active volcanoes in populated areas, helping to predict hazard areas.”

Foucher is the first international student to participate in the student exchange program Petronis developed with Blaise Pascale University geology professor Benjamin Van Wyk de Vries. Foucher completed one year of graduate volcanology studies with Van Wyk de Vries at the French university and her second year at Highlands.

In 2011, Petronis and fellow Highlands University geology professor Jennifer Lindline secured a grant from the National Geographic Society to pursue their own groundbreaking research at the Cerros del Rio Volcanic Field — a previously unstudied portion of the Rio Grande Rift where mining excavation and erosion offer a rare opportunity to study the exposed plumbing of a volcano.

The NGS grant also partially funded Foucher’s research, as well as two field expeditions to Europe for Highlands University geology students Adam Brister, Danielle Cedillo, and Rhonda Trujillo.

Michigan Tech geophysics professor Alexsey Smirnov will be Foucher’s doctoral adviser.

“Marine’s experience with rock magnetism research is rare in a student, and she’s prepared to begin research with us without the usual year of training,” Smirnov said. “She’s very familiar with rock magnetism instruments from her thesis research at Highlands, which translates directly into her working in our Earth Magnetism Laboratory.”

Foucher gained the lab experience in Highlands University’s state-of-the-art paleomagnetic laboratory for the study of magnetic properties of earth materials. In 2008 and 2010, Petronis and Lindline were awarded National Science Foundation grants to establish the lab.

“It was incredible to use all those instruments in the paleomagnetic lab for my research at Highlands. I learned how to do the fieldwork and the paleomagnetic analysis from Dr. Petronis, and Dr. Lindline taught me observation methods,” Foucher said

“Mike Petronis is a good scientist and strong researcher,” Smirnov said. “It’s a good reflection on a student when they come from a strong geology program like Highlands has. Marine’s master’s research was a thorough and very nice piece of work in a growing area of scientific interest. I’m confident she’ll be a successful Ph.D. student in our program.”

Foucher said that Highlands prepared her for her doctoral studies in geophysics.

“I’m so grateful to Dr. Petronis and Dr. Lindline for all their support and knowledge, and all they taught me through fieldwork, lab work, classes and opportunities to present my research at geology conferences. When you have outstanding professors teaching you, you can be outstanding yourself. Without them I wouldn’t have had the chance to be accepted into an amazing Ph.D. program. It’s a dream come true,” Foucher said.


Petronis said Foucher came to Highlands with a strong foundation in the fundamentals of geology and volcanology. She was a graduate teaching assistant in his Geology 101 course. 

“Marine set the bar high for academic excellence,” Petronis said. “She was outstanding in the field mapping volcanic structures, and integrating those observations with lab analysis to discern the volcano’s growth system. As a teaching assistant, she proved to be a strong instructor with very high expectations of her students.

“I have no doubt she will succeed at the doctoral level, and contribute fundamental knowledge to geophysics,” Petronis said.

One aspect of Foucher’s doctoral work will involve studying the evolution of the Earth’s geomagnetic fields to help decipher the geologic history of our planet, including the growth of the inner core.

“The Earth’s magnetic fields help protect us from damaging solar radiation. Building up the database about the intensity of geomagnetic fields through geologic time is important because there may be a link between the evolution of ancient rocks and the evolution of the biosphere,” Foucher said.

Her goal is to become a university geology professor and researcher after she completes her doctorate, saying Petronis and Lindline inspired her in this path.