Students From HU Only Americans to Participate in German Geology Conference

Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Highlands University students are the only U.S. students participating in a geology conference in Germany in June focused on how ancient mountain ranges and volcanoes grew at the border between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Highlands University’s three-year $250,000 National Science Foundation Grant, titled From the Roots to the Roof: the Anatomy of Volcanoes, is funding the students’ participation in the conference as well as groundbreaking summer research they will conduct aimed at understanding the roots of the legendary Krasny volcano in the central Czech Republic.

“This kind of volcanic research is important because understanding the ancient volcanoes can help predict eruptions of active volcanoes worldwide, like the one currently erupting in Hawaii,” said Highlands geology professor Michael Petronis, who is leading the Highlands research contingent. “The conference is bringing together a group of more than 50 scientists from Central Europe to share research on the evolution of the Bohemian Massif, which is an eroded mountain range.”

Petronis and Jennifer Lindline, fellow Highlands geology professor, wrote the NSF grant and are its principle investigators or lead researchers. The research partnership for the conference and field work includes scientists from Charles University in Prague, Czech Geological Survey, Czech Academy of Sciences, Poland, and France.

Petronis is also presenting his own 2017 research study at the Germany conference, which is a scientific collaboration of how the Bohemian Masiff Mountains grew over time.

“Our Highlands field research is the first to study the growth at the roots of the Krasny volcano in the Northwest Czech Republic using geophysics to map volcanic deposits like lava flows and the base of the crater,” Petronis said. “We’ll use new seismic data that provides subsurface images of rock types and magnetic data that also helps with rock images. The overall goal is to combine these techniques to give a three-dimensional image of this 17.2-million-year-old volcano.”

Five Highlands students are participating in the NSF-funded summer conference in Germany and four weeks of field research primarily in the Czech Republic, including geology graduate students Sindy Lauricella, Richard Pratt, and Jacob Helesic along with media arts graduate students Terence García and Jake Erickson.

“It will be invaluable to meet the scientists at the conference and during the fieldwork to learn about their research, including the subjects and methodology,” said Lauricella of Taos, New Mexico. “The field research I do this summer will be the focus of my thesis project. For me as a first-generation college student of Mexican heritage to have this kind of opportunity is breathtaking. I’ve never been out of the U.S. I feel beyond blessed my Highlands geology professors are showing me the path and supporting me along the way.”

Petronis said another unique aspect of the grant project is that two media arts and technology students from Highlands will produce a documentary film of the field work. Lucia Duncan, a media arts professor, is also part of the expedition and will supervise their work.

García and Erickson are the filmmakers for the documentary.

“We want viewers to understand the geology research that Highlands is doing and why it’s scientifically important and innovative,” García said. “Our goal is to make this documentary as visually exciting as possible using all the filmmaking techniques like high-definition that we’ve learned over the years in media arts.”

García, another student who hasn’t traveled previously outside the U.S., said the Highlands grant project is a great opportunity to work in a foreign country and obtain fieldwork experience he can list on his resume.

“This grant will build our students global competency and immerse them in Central European culture,” Lindline said.

Over the years, Petronis and Lindline have secured National Science Foundation and other grants to take 15 students to Europe for geologic research.