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Lehigh cleans up at GSA awards ceremony

A Lehigh alumnus and a current graduate student received major awards at the Geological Society of America (GSA) conference held recently in Salt Lake City.

The Kirk Bryan Award went to John Gosse Ph.D. ‘94 for his co-authorship of the paper “Terrestrial in situ cosmogenic nuclides: theory and applications,” which was published in Quaternary Science Reviews in 2001.

The award is given to the author or authors of a published paper that advances the science of quaternary geology, geomorphology or a related field. Gosse was nominated for the award by his Ph.D. adviser, Ed Evenson, professor of earth and environmental sciences.

The J. Hoover Mackin Award and Robert C. Fahnstock awards went to Patrick Belmont, Ph.D. candidate in earth and environmental sciences, for his research proposal titled “Calibrating model for estimating basin-wide erosion rates from in situ terrestrial cosmogenic nuclides.”

The Mackin Award is given by GSA’s Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division for the best Ph.D. research proposal in the field of geomorphology. The Fahnstock Award is given by GSA for the best proposed student research project in sediment transport or related aspects of fluvial geomorphology.

A rare honor

Frank Pazzaglia, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, supervises Belmont’s research. Pazzaglia received the Bryan award in 2002.

Evenson says it is a rare honor for a professor and an alumnus of the same school to receive similar national recognition.

“Having members of our department receive some of the most prestigious honors in our field distinguishes our earth and environmental sciences department,” Evenson says, “and marks Lehigh as one of the premier research institutions today.”

Gosse’s paper has made a big splash in the field of geology, says Evenson. Just as a suntan can reflect how long a person has been in the sun, Gosse explains how to calculate the length of time a rock has been sitting in Earth’s cosmic ray flux. He has perfected a dating method called cosmogenic nuclide exposure dating, which is used by many scientists, especially those who study Earth’s glacial history and the erosion rates in the world’s mountainous areas.

The dating method examines how high-energy particles from deep space smash into the earth, strike exposed rocks on the Earth’s surface, and synthesize elements such as Beryllium-10 (10Be) within the crystal composing that rock. The concentration of 10Be in the rock, measurable by a nuclear accelerator, depends on how long the rock has been exposed to cosmic radiation.

“Gosse’s paper is one of the monumental demonstrations of this technique,” Evenson says. “After John’s first paper was published in Science, he became recognized as a world expert in cosmogenic dating. His award-winning paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews is referred to as ‘The Bible’ in the field of cosmogenic nuclide dating.”

Belmont’s winning research proposal stemmed from his interest in geology and ecology and meshes with his desire to better understand watersheds. He also uses cosmogenic dating methods to understand basin-scale erosion rates. His proposal explores what grain size fractions are produced in the weathering process, which of those fractions are transported by rivers, and what kind of cosmogenic nuclide inventories occur in different grain sizes. Belmont’s conclusions will be used to refine the method of applying cosmogenic techniques to erosion studies.

“Patrick’s awards are a huge accomplishment within the geomorphologic community,” Pazzaglia says. “The Geological Society of America is a premier professional society that places emphasis on student recognition. This reflects positively on Patrick because his creativity and resourcefulness are being recognized at the national level.”

Gosse now holds the Canada research chair in Earth System Evolution at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Belmont is continuing his studies at Lehigh and striving for a career in research and education.

“A professor’s fondest dream is to have his academic offspring turn out better than he has,” Evenson says. “These boys show that it can happen.”

--Andrea Tulcin

Posted on Friday, November 11, 2005

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