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Chasing Sparkles

AquamarineAura's picture

Seeing as I am a geology major, it may be considered cheating to look at the geology of the campus, but I feel that this is alright, and I hope you'll agree.

I realized that although I constantly joke that I live in a castle or a stone fortress, I have yet to really look into what that fortress of a dorm is built of. I spent last semester in Mineralogy learning how to identify individual minerals like quartz or hematite by simple tests that used sight and touch. I have yet to really put these skills to use outside of a classroom, however, and realistically a geologist doesn't get to spend their life looking at collections as organized as those in Park and much more often has to decifer what a conglomerate of minerals is telling them within a larger stone. This is why I chose to take this opportunity to really get close to the rocks in our buildings and find out just what they are made of and where they came from.
It was a bit chilly to wander today, but I put on a decent coat, grabbed my scarf, and decided to just enjoy the beauty of the fresh snow as it sparkled across our campus. The advantage of my tour being led from building to building is that I could always duck inside for a bit to defrost!

I was quite happy to follow the original tour route since I live in Merion and Denbigh is one of the dorms I visit most often. It was a little odd to stand by the doors and look at the stonework as others walked past, but I'm so glad that I did because I found a small delight in finally noticing the tiny grains of mica that make the Wissahickon schist of Denbigh shimmer. When I finally broke myself away from their sparkle it was onward to Merion, where I finally understood why the rocks had become so foliated and layered. The larger grains in the Baltimore gneiss allowed me to visually pick out the main minerals that were mentioned in the posting. I have always guessed that my building had some quartz in it's building blocks, but I was never really able to pinpoint any other minerals until I knew what to look for. It was fascinating to see up close with this new knowledge and I feel that it might almost be calming to notice in the future each time I scan into the dorm and head back to my room.

Erdman was the next stop on my mini tour and although it was one of the simplest to look at, it made me think the most. I realized that I pass in and out of Erdman nearly every day for food, taking the long walk from Pembroke Arch which gives me plenty of time to see the building. Despite this, however, I continue to think of the building as "that concrete structure" that doesn't really fit in with the rest of the campus' architecture. Now I can see that it is tied in with the rest of the campus by it's use of grey slate along the outsides to blend the mixture of rocks that make up concrete into the highly green areas surrounding it. This didn't make it seem much more welcoming, but it does make the building a bit more grounded or earthy than I originally thought it to be.

Unfortunately, at this point my fingers were getting a little too numb due to my longer-than-planned stops at each location and I decided to call it a day. I can't wait to look at these rocks again, however, when I have a chance to remember gloves (I know, I'm a silly Californian sometimes). For now I'm left with an impression of just how strong these buildings really are as well as how important all the little pieces are. In the scale of things, a single quartz crystal or flake of mica isn't all that strong, but when these minerals blend together into the granite or gneiss or schist that are used as building blocks, they create a solid wall that can withstand the test of time (and blizzards or hurricanes) above ground just as well as it has below.


original tour and information posted at:  /exchange/notes-towards-day-14-thurs-oct-25-exploring-campus-geologically