Geology professors go under the IDC

Courtney Duchene

Soon after the construction of the IDC began, two Ursinus Environmental Studies professors found themselves donning hard hats and walking down into the pit that would become the new building’s foundation. There, they were surrounded by four “walls” comprised of slightly tilted, reddish shale, the same rocks they’ve been telling students they would see under campus for several years now.

The professors, Dr. Leah Joseph and Dr. Tristan Ashcroft, were inspired to go into the pit when they saw workers digging the new building’s foundation and realized that they would have a chance to look at rocks.

“Both of us are geologists and we study rocks, and we’re used to looking at rock formations through our undergraduate days and beyond and so an opportunity to look and see what’s underneath when you don’t usually get to is just a nice opportunity,”  Joseph said. “We got our hard hats on and we were ready to go.”

Another part of their motivation to go into the pit was to confirm that the rocks under campus are the same types as what Ashcroft and Joseph have been telling students they are. During the intro to geology class, “Geology: Earth Around Us,” both professors teach a lab where students examine rock outcrops on the Perkiomen trail to determine what types of rocks are under campus.

“It was a good way for me to have a reference and for Dr. Joseph to have a reference about what the rocks under campus are, what they’re doing… so we can feel a little bit better about making pronouncements about them and giving assignments about them,” Ashcroft said.

While in the pit, they saw many of the same kinds of rocks, primarily shale, that they’ve seen on the trail, but they also found something unexpected: sandstone.

“We found almost sandstone in there. There was a line about two feet thick,” Ashcroft said. “In hindsight it makes sense, because when the contractor who was doing the pre-site survey was drilling he ran into a spot that was very hard… so we figured out why.”

Even though they mostly saw what they expected to find, the professors were happy to confirm that the rocks under campus are exactly what they have been telling students.

“It was in ways comforting that we saw what we thought we were going to see. We’ve been going to the Perkiomen trail and saying we can extend [these formations] under campus as well and then we got there and we actually could see that the fracture traces were about the same orientation as they are on the Perkiomen trail, the beds were the same range of thicknesses, grain sizes were mostly similar, the colors were the same,” Ashcroft said.

 “We had looked around the fence before, but it’s different to go down and see the structures,” Joseph added, “there’s certain outcrops on the area, such as on the Perkiomen trail and there’s geologic maps, but it’s always nice to see if it makes sense by actually getting to see what’s on campus.”

The professors were accompanied by the head of facilities, a few representatives from the construction company, and Dr. Victor Tortorelli, a chemistry professor who served as a liaison during IDC construction.

During their time in the hole, they examined the rocks using hand lenses, which magnify the size of the rock’s individual grains, so they could have a better idea of what they were looking at. They were also able to see man-made structures, such as the walls of Pfahler and Thomas, and the IDC’s elevator shaft.

“I think any opportunity we have to learn about the underground structures, whether they’re human-made or natural is [amazing],” Joseph said. “It’s just like ‘Oohh, can we go down and see the pipe system?’ Can we go down and see anything?’”

While they were excited to see many different structures, their journey was primarily united by their love of rocks. “The simple answer [for why we went down] is we love looking at rocks,” Ashcroft said.