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Outdoor geology laboratory established at Appalachian

fredweb_t.jpgBOONE—The best way to study geology is in the field, but it’s not always possible to take students to the various rock formations found in the region.

Thanks to Appalachian State University geology graduates and others, the university has an outdoor geology laboratory with 32 rock specimens dating between 1.2 billion and 300 million years old.

The collection has been named the Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Geology Laboratory in honor of the retired geology professor who spent some 40 years at the university and was the first chairman of the Department of Geology.

The outdoor lab, located adjacent to Ranking Science Building, features a winding path that leads visitors to rock specimens from four states. The collection includes igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, each weighing one to three tons. Permanent markers will be located at each specimen detailing the rock type, the time period it was formed and the geological province where it was located.

Fred Webb Jr_t2.jpgA collection of rock specimens dating between 1.2 billion and 300 million years old has been named the Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Geology Laboratory in honor of the retired geology professor and former Department of Geology chairman. rock garden installation_t2.jpg Vulcan Materials helped the university obtain more than a dozen specimens from Vulcan quarries. Vulcan also donated a crane truck and operator, hauling many specimens more than 100 miles from their quarries to Boone.

“No one has spent more time with undergraduates in the field than Fred Webb. It’s hard to get all the undergraduates to the field, so we brought the field to them as best we could,” said Andy Heckert, an assistant professor in the Department of Geology and director of the department’s McKinney Geology Teaching Museum.

“This outdoor laboratory will allow us to give students a more accurate experience in terms of what geologists look at in the field. It also will augment our educational outreach to area school students and others. This is an exhibit that’s open every day,” he said.

Webb, Heckert and others handpicked the specimens on display.

“All of these specimens were chosen because of what they show,” Heckert said. “They reveal a portion of the history of the planet, and a lot are textbook examples of what we are teaching in our labs.”

The collection will augment field trips, which are a mainstay of upper level geology classes, Heckert said.

“To many people these are just rocks, but if you know how to make observations they can tell you a great deal about the history of a region.”

For instance, a specimen of river deposit from Tennessee illustrates the history of the older Appalachian Mountains. Deformed metamorphic rocks in the collection illustrate the classic folds and fractures that are a result of the tectonic stress that makes mountains. “There are a number of specimens where you can actually see folds in the rock. You need a rock that big to show students what you are talking about,” Heckert said.

The collection also includes examples of granite – North Carolina’s state rock. Two specimens of Mount Airy granite were donated by N.C. Granite, the biggest seller of the stone in the country. The bright white stone is used as decoration, flooring and building exteriors.

A piece of pegmatite from Feldspar Corporation in Spruce Pine contains high purity quartz, which is used to manufacture computer chips, feldspar, used to produce porcelain, and mica, a component in wallboard.

“Everything they take out of the ground at the Spruce Pine quarry ends up in a product somewhere,” Heckert said.

A specimen of “pudding stone,” a purple conglomerate of various minerals, was donated by Lees McCrae College in Banner Elk.

A boulder from the road widening project between Blowing Rock and Lenoir is also in the collection. It’s called Blowing Rock gneiss. “It’s textbook augen gneiss,” Heckert said. Augen is German for eyes. The rock has large crystals that resemble eyes. It also contains bits of Fool’s Gold. “It is one of the metamorphic rocks that were created as the Appalachian Mountains were formed,” he said.

Webb’s favorite specimen is the Ste. Genevieve limestone, a member of the Greenbrier limestone family. Webb, who was born near the Greenbrier River in West Virginia, studied the geological formation while a graduate student at Virginia Tech.

Tom Carroll, director of business development and external affairs with Vulcan Materials, helped the university obtain more than a dozen specimens which came from Vulcan quarries. Vulcan also donated a crane truck and operator, hauling many specimens more than 100 miles from their quarries to Boone.

Carroll is a 1979 graduate of the geology department. “I remember many a long Saturday with Fred Webb,” Carroll said. “He would drop us off in the morning and tell us to map all of the road cuts and then pick us up at the end of the day. Strenuous hiking was listed as part of the course description in the course catalog.”

Carroll worked from a wish list supplied by Heckert. “We have quarries in a variety of different rock types,” Carroll said. “Knowing what they were looking for, we were able to pick and choose when we were at each operation.”

Marion Wiggins, 1984 Appalachian geology graduate, is a geologist with Vulcan Materials. She selected a specimen of Rockingham granite for the lab and also helped secure other specimens from Vulcan’s quarries.

“Vulcan’s effort was literally worth tens of thousands of dollars,” Heckert said. “They donated thousands of dollars of product and spent much more than that in equipment cost and shipping to move specimens here, including the specimens donated by NC Granite. The lab simply would not look as impressive without their assistance.”

Alumnus Brian Elliston of Hendersonville donated his time, track hoe and dump truck to transport the first 13 specimens placed in the outdoor lab.

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