undergraduate research

Historically, undergraduate research has been an important component of our programs since its inception. Our faculty's approach to undergraduate research is to engage students in the process of conducting science, not by telling students what to do to complete some project designed by someone else, but by mentoring them through the process of understanding a topic, then designing and conducting the research necessary to explain something about that topic.

Students engaged in our research program do so through enrolling in a one, two, or three credit hour course with the prefix MSCI (i.e., MSCI 4103, MSCI 4203, MSCI 4303). In many instances students continue their project across two or more semesters and write a thesis, and several programs encourage this path for students planning on graduate or professional school, but it is not required. Not all research is conducted in a laboratory- there are several projects underway in field biology and geology that pursue a research topic as well. The major topic areas presently available to students include:

  • Mammalian paleontological analysis of Eocene Badlands specimens
  • Analysis of well cuttings to enhance horizontal drilling practices
  • Analysis of Lake Theo (Caprock Canyon State Park) volume fluctuations and hydroclimatology.

The culmination of both independent and course-level research projects is presentations of findings at a scientific meetings. Students are given multiple opportunities to present either poster or oral presentations throughout the semester. Some of the scientific meetings attending include:

  • Texas Academy of Science
  • West Texas Geological Society Meeting
  • Southwest Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologist
  • National American Association of Petroleum Geologist
  • South Central Section Geological Society of America Meeting

At a local level, the School of Mathematics and Sciences hosts an annual Spring Research Day. Students are encouraged to present either poster format or oral presentation of their independent and/or course-level undergraduate research.

Recent Abstracts Presented by WBU Geology Students

Hydroclimatology and Environmental Factors Affecting Volume Fluctuation of Lake Theo, Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas. Kaylee Lawrence and Tim Walsh, Ph.D., Wayland Baptist University

Lake Theo at Caprock Canyons State Park, TX has visually fluctuated dramatically in the last fifteen years. In order to quantify volume changes monthly Landsat imagery was analyzed for the total surface area and bathymetry was acquired using sonar with GPS. Topography of the area was acquired using basic surveying methods and all of this data was then combined in ESRI ArcGIS software to summarize the volumetric changes. Factors playing a role in the volume fluctuation may include precipitation, ground water influx, evaporation rates, and soil infiltration. Precipitation and climate history from the surrounding area were analyzed primarily with data from the Texas Tech Mesonet System. Soil type was examined to evaluate infiltration rates and all results were used to estimate ground water input. Although an obvious correlation between precipitation and lake volume is present, other factors, especially ground water contribution, play a large role in controlling lake volumes.

Solving a horizontal drilling quandary: using alternative techniques on modern drilling operations. Doan II, D.W.; Walsh, T.R. School of Mathematics and Sciences, Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, TX USA.

This research is being conducted to evaluate alternative methods to determine borehole positioning in "real-time" during horizontal drilling. To aid the drill operator, techniques need to be incorporated to ensure that the drill bit stays within the correct horizon, or "pay zone". Both destructive and nondestructive techniques are currently being employed to obtain data for geosteering. Currently, "real-time: Gamma Ray (GR) data provides information, but may present problematic results while drilling horizontally. Drill cuttings from the well, inspected by optical microscopy, lead to determinate results as well. Gas Chromatography (GS) deployed on the mud line can indicate the presence of hydrocarbon shows from the horizon. On occasion, no distinctive position within the hydrocarbon pay zone can be surmised. Other techniques need to be evaluated to obtain additional data while drilling in the pay zones. Possible techniques include X-ray Diffraction (XRD), X-ray Fluorescence (XSF), Raman Spectroscopy techniques, and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR). FTIR spectroscopy is being tested as an alternative method for locating the stratigraphic position within the horizon. By using an infrared absorption spectrum, this method can quantify and qualify data by distinguishing chemical bonds. This method allows for examination of compounds, elemental make-up, and trace elements from the horizon. Employing other techniques or methods to remain in the pay zone will ensure that time, money, and manpower is not wasted during horizontal drilling efforts.

A taxonomic and geologic study on an oreodont skull excavated from Buffalo Gap National Grasslands of South Dakota. Williamson, G;Walsh, T.R; Schmidt, D. School of Mathematics and Sciences, Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, TX USA; Westminster College.

During the summer of 2012, a Wayland Baptist University geology field team located and excavated numerous Eocene age fossil specimens from the White River Group in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota. A skull, preserved within a sandstone concretion that had eroded out of the Scenic Member of the Brule Formation, was discovered within a gully cutting through a stump block. The stump, from the upper part of the Scenic Member, sustained approximately 23 meters of displacement and currently rests upon the upper portion of the underlying Chadron Formation. The stump failed off a cliff face whose orientation is similar to that of the linear stream patterns within the area a both may have the same structural control. Most of the specimen's part of the right orbital were preserved. After lab preparations it was revealed that at least one of  each tooth type is represented, although not all teeth are present. Characters used for taxonomic identification ere therefore primarily restricted to tooth morphology and positioning. Since the skull was found on a stump with substantial displacement, small mammals from throughout the Scenic Member (Orellan age, NALMA) were considered for identification. The mammalian families under consideration were Agriochoeridae, Camelidae, Leptomerycidae, Merycoidodontidae, and Protoceratidae. Analyses of morphometric characteristics, such as a lack of diastema and tooth row lengths, indicate the specimen belongs to the Merycoidodontidae family: Merycoidodon culbertsoni, Merycoidodon bullatus, Merycoidodon starkensis or Miniocherous chadronesis.

A taxonomic and taphonomic description of an ungulate fossil from the Chadron Formation of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota. Hunter Green and Dr. David Schmidt, Wayland Baptist University.

In a recent field expedition to the Indian Creek area within the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, South Dakota, a field team from Wayland Baptist University collected fossil specimens from the White River Group. This area is recognized as one of the most fossiliferous localities spanning late Cretaceous to early Miocene strata. A partial mandible of a large fossil ungulate was recovered from the upper Chadron Formation and is being investigated for its taxonomic relationship and condition of preservation. A preliminary description and morphometric analysis has been conducted on recovered skeletal elements. The left dentary is highly fractured and measures 30.7 cm in length and 9.2 cm diagonally from the angular process to the curved antero-dorsal margin of the ramus, approximately 3 cm behind molar 2. Additionally, the left dentary contains an incomplete tooth row that measures 13.7 cm in length consisting of molars and premolars. The right dentary is represented by several bone and tooth fragments with an incomplete dentition while possessing enough material for a partial description. Based on dental and skeletal morphological comparisons to other large ungulates from the Chadron formation, Brontotheriidae and Hyracodontidae families are currently considered for taxonomic assignment. Most of the observed fractures in the left dentary appear to have occurred after fossilization. However, bone weathering and fracturing prior to fossilization is indicated by fracture-filling clay and flakes of bone within the matrix.


Geological mapping of the late Cretaceous to early Eocene strata within the Indian Creek
Area, Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota
Garrett Williamson, Dr. David Schmidt, and Dr. Tim Walsh, Wayland Baptist University.

During the summer field season of 2012, it was recognized that a detailed geologic map of the Indian Creek area within the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands of South Dakota could be established. According to current knowledge, no detailed geologic map of the permitted field area has been published. Therefore, a preliminary map that includes members (Ahearn, Crazy Johnson, and Peanut Peak) of the Chadron Formation as well as the Chamberlain Pass and Pierre Shale Formations has been constructed. Each member and formation were located, measured, litho logically described, and compared to previous interpretations. Other collected data consisted of coordinates and elevations between stratigraphic boundaries. This information was acquired using a Trimble Geo XH with Terrasync 5.30 software. Once field data was transferred into ArcGIS 10.0, a map scale of 1:8000 was selected to show detail covering an area of 1.4 km2. The data was overlaid with Digital Raster Graphs (DRG) and Digital Orthophoto Quarter Quadrangles (DOQQ). Contact lines of stratigraphic boundaries were digitized through coordinate points and correlated with surface topography to create a current geologic map. A detailed map of discernible stratigraphic units within the Indian Creek area will be a valuable tool for future paleontological and geological investigations. Since, more information is needed to cover the entire designated field area of 9 km2, field work will continue in the summer of 2013 to obtain the necessary data for completion of this project.