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Highlands Receives NSF Grant for New Geology Research Lab

New Mexico Highlands University received a $159,328 National Science Foundation grant that that will enable the geology faculty and students to use in-house instrumentation for high-quality geologic research in New Mexico, the western United States, and Europe. The grant money will purchase instruments to build a dedicated paleomagnetic laboratory at Highlands to study magnetic properties of earth materials, with a focus on environmental, geological, and archaeological applications. The only other paleomagnetism facility in the state is at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.    Two Highlands University geology professors, Jennifer Lindline and Mike Petronis, submitted the successful NSF grant application. Lindline has been a professor at Highlands since 2000 and Petronis joined the faculty in 2006. Their doctorates are in petrology and geophysics, respectively. They have both published extensively and have also been successful in garnering other grant funding for research. “We do a lot of field research at Highlands, that’s where the study starts,” Lindline said. “But few scientific problems can be fully solved without lab analysis — without looking at mineral and rock textures at the microscopic level.  Now we can delve deeper, into the submicroscopic realm, and make broader contributions to the science.”Lindline and Petronis said they are excited about what the new lab will mean to their undergraduate and graduate geology students.Petronis said: “This new lab will open up huge opportunities for our local students to develop their own ideas and then test them in the lab. We can do high-quality, modern research in house without traveling to the UNM lab in Albuquerque or the United States Geologic Survey lab in Denver.”Both professors noted that the lab will fill a gap in geologic research and lab facilities in Northern New Mexico. A few local research projects that will benefit from the new lab include the mountain-building processes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the volcanic evolution of the Turkey Mountains.  “The two table-top instruments in the new lab measure the fossil magnetization in the rock samples,” Petronis said. “The other instrument measures the submicroscopic alignment of magnetic minerals in the rock samples. Having both types of instruments allows us to do comparisons and approach analysis from two different angles.”  Petronis said during field work, faculty and students use a modified chain saw with a diamond-tipped rock coring drill to sample the rocks. Now they can bring the rock samples back to the university lab for analysis.  “Our mission is not just to advance research but to train students to be the next generation of scientists,” Lindline said. “This new lab will help us do that. The more we know through research, the better we understand how the earth works.”The lab will also be used for collaborative research projects with other natural sciences faculty and students at Highlands.  Research about climate change in the Las Vegas area is just one example. In addition, the paleomagnetism lab opens the door for Highlands to work on joint research projects with other universities in the United States and internationally. Petronis is working on research projects in the United Kingdom and the Canary Islands and said his colleagues there are already interested in pursuing collaborative research projects and conducting research at Highlands once the lab is installed.