If “geosciences” makes you think of dusty collections of rocks, minerals  and old bones, visit the Lawrence geosciences department. You will discover a thriving group of faculty members and students who consider the geosciences to be a way of seeing the Earth, a lens through which the planet’s past and present come simultaneously into focus. 

Lawrence geosciences students have an exceptional range of research experiences, comparable to what students from larger universities would first encounter at graduate school. In a single academic term, you could find yourself mapping the roots of an ancient mountain belt in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, instrumenting a watershed in eastern Wisconsin, acquiring thermal drone imagery over landslides along lake Michigan, examining microscopic rock structures with image-analysis software, and conducting geochemical and crystallographic studies with research equipment shared with the chemistry department. All geosciences majors complete a research project as part of their  Senior Experience, and many present results of their research at professional meetings. 

Field-based studies are at the heart of the Lawrence geosciences program. Recent destinations for departmental field trips include the Driftless area, Wyoming, Ontario, and Puerto Rico. Shorter trips are integrated into academic-year courses, and there also are opportunities for summer field courses, internships, and research projects. Appleton is within a few hours’ drive of classical geological localities, including iron ore deposits and ancient volcanoes in northern Wisconsin and Michigan, a fossil forest preserved in glacial sediments on the shores of Lake Michigan, and the world-renowned glacial landscape of the Kettle Moraine. Local environmental issues related to surface and groundwater protection also provide the basis for student field projects. 

Students will also examine the essential role of environmental justice in geosciences. All planetary inhabitants need access to fresh air, water, and food resources. Historically many anthropogenic systems and structures have restricted access to these essential resources for specific groups of people. The lack of equitable access to natural resources is increasingly recognized as a critical issue to address for social and environmental justice. This is especially timely in a world striving towards providing clean water resources, working towards climate action, and protecting biodiversity, as outlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.   

In many ways, a major in geosciences is ideal for a liberal arts degree. The discipline draws not only upon one’s observational and analytical abilities but also upon one’s aesthetic and creative instincts.  

Required for the major in geosciences

Students who major in geosciences will learn to visualize earth processes over temporal and spatial scales, conduct research from hypothesis testing to data analysis and interpretation, and communicate scientific information proficiently in both written and spoken form.

The major in geosciences requires the following:

  1. Required foundational courses
    1. One of the following introductory geosciences courses:
      1. GEOS 110 Introduction to the Geosciences
      2. GEOS 125 Natural Hazards
      3. GEOS 150 Introduction to Environmental Science
    2. GEOS 210 History of Earth and Life
    3. GEOS 240 The Material World: Geochemistry of Minerals, Rocks, and Water
    4. One of the following:
      1. GEOS 360 Earth Surface Processes
      2. GEOS 370 Tectonophysics
  2. Three courses from the following:
    1. GEOS 214 Climate and Climate Change
    2. GEOS 250 Hot Rocks: Magmatism and Metamorphism
    3. GEOS 265 Biogeochemistry
    4. GEOS 314 Soil Science
    5. GEOS 340 Advanced Geochemistry
    6. GEOS 360 Earth Surface Processes
    7. GEOS 370 Tectonophysics
    8. GEOS 430 Watershed Hydrology
  3. Nine additional units in the geosciences in courses numbered 200 or higher. The following courses may also be used to meet this requirement: CHEM 212, ANTH 220, BIOL 235, or BIOL 420.
  4. Courses in other sciences and mathematics
    1. Introductory lab courses from two of the other natural sciences:
      1. CHEM 115 or 116
      2. PHYS 141 or 151
      3. BIOL 130 or 135 or 150
    2. One course from mathematics or focused on statistics:
      1. STAT 107 or MATH 140 or BIOL 280
  5. Courses for the Senior Experience:
    1. GEOS 580 Junior Seminar (3 units)
    2. GEOS 620 Senior Capstone (3 units)

Required for the interdisciplinary major in natural sciences in geosciences and a secondary discipline

Geosciences students who have strong secondary interests in physics, chemistry, or biology may construct a major involving geosciences and one of these sciences using the interdisciplinary major in the natural sciences.

The requirements for the interdisciplinary major with geosciences as the primary field are:

  1. One of the following introductory geosciences courses:
    1. GEOS 110: Introduction to the Geosciences,
    2. GEOS 125: Natural Hazards, or
    3. GEOS 150: Introduction to Environmental Science
  2. GEOS 210: History of Earth and Life
  3. PHYS 141: Principles of Classical, Relativistic, and Quantum Mechanics and 151: Principles of Classical Physics
  4. Either of the following:
    1. BIOL 130: Integrative Biology: Cells to Organisms, 150: Integrative Biology: Organisms to Ecosystems, and 230: Experimental Design and Statistics
    2. CHEM 115: Principles of Chemistry: Structure and Reactivity and 116: Principles of Chemistry: Energetics and Dynamics
  5. At least 10 additional six-unit courses in the sciences (biology, chemistry, geosciences, and physics) numbered 200 or above, with at least five in the geosciences and at least three in the secondary discipline
  6. Courses for the Senior Experience:
    1. GEOS 580 Junior Seminar (3 units)
    2. GEOS 620 Senior Capstone (3 units)

Senior Experience in geosciences

The Senior Experience in geosciences comprises two 3-unit courses (GEOS 580 and 620), typically offered in the spring term of the junior year and the winter term of the senior year respectively.

The junior seminar (GEOS 580) helps students begin to acquire an “insider's view” of the geosciences. In the first part of the course, students explore the philosophical and historical underpinnings of the discipline and develop strategies for finding and reading technical literature. Then, working with at least one member of the geosciences faculty, each student identifies a substantive research question and designs a plan by which to investigate that question.

In the senior capstone (GEOS 620), students work with faculty mentors to carry out these research plans, sometimes building upon work that they conducted during summer research on campus, in the field, or through programs at other universities as well as independent study work. By the end of GEOS 620, each student presents their research results and analyses to the department as a whole. Some students opt to continue their capstone research throughout their senior year as an honors project.

Required for the minor in geosciences

  1. One of the following introductory geosciences courses:
    1. GEOS 110: Introduction to the Geosciences
    2. GEOS 125: Natural Hazards
    3. GEOS 150: Introduction to Environmental Science
  2. GEOS 210: History of Earth and Life
  3. Any two of the following:
    1. GEOS 214: Climate and Climate Change
    2. GEOS 240: The Material World: Geochemistry of Minerals, Rocks, and Water
    3. GEOS 250: Hot Rocks: Magmatism and Metamorphism
    4. GEOS 265: Biogeochemistry
    5. GEOS 314: Soil Science
    6. GEOS 340: Advanced Geochemistry
    7. GEOS 360: Earth Surface Processes
    8. GEOS 370: Tectonophysics
    9. GEOS 430: Watershed Hydrology
  4. An additional twelve units in geosciences courses numbered 200 or higher

Teacher certification in geosciences/earth science or broad-field science

Students can seek teacher certification to teach geosciences/earth science at the secondary level. Certification requires a major in geosciences with a course in astronomy, environmental science and oceanography  and one course in each of the other science disciplines.  Students also have the option of seeking broad-field science certification by completing a minimum of two courses in each of two other science disciplines. Because state requirements are subject to change, students who plan to seek teacher certification should review the requirements in the Education section of the catalog and meet with the director of teacher education, preferably before the end of the sophomore year.