Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences


Undergraduate Studies in Earth and Planetary Sciences

Geology is the study of the structure, composition, environment, and natural processes of the Earth and other planets. Geologists are an eclectic bunch—climbing volcanoes to study their composition, measuring the violent shaking of earthquakes, investigating how mountain ranges form, examining climate trends in both the present and the ancient past, learning to keep our air and water clean, exploring for new mineral and hydrocarbon resources, unraveling the origin and evolution of life on Earth, and exploring the potential for other planetary bodies to teach us something about our own.

Why study Geology? There are as many answers to this question as there are geologists, but two common viewpoints are as follows. The first derives from a simple desire to understand the way the Earth works: the origin of the mountains and the seas, the diversity and evolution of life, the origin of the planets. The quest for knowledge is exhilarating, and the greatest history is of that of the Earth! Or, as Cervantes said in his 1615 publication, Don Quixote of La Mancha:

Wherein are related a thousand trifling matters, as trivial as they are necessary to the right understanding of this great history.

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A second viewpoint derives from a basic desire to help human civilization achieve its greatest potential: we live on the Earth, use its resources, and cope with its upheavals. Throughout human history, cultural advancement has been linked to our awareness of geologic materials – from the use of ocean salts to preserve meat, to harnessing the electrical properties of Earth materials. Today, geoscientists seek viable solutions to a wide range of civilizations needs, such as clean water, adequate food, and exploitable energy, while pursuing safeguards against a wide range of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis. In short, as stated by the Pulitzer prize winning historian and philosopher, William Durant:

Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.

Here in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, we pride ourselves on our dedication to our undergraduate students. We welcome and encourage undergraduate participation in departmental activities—from interacting with graduate students; to participating in departmental seminars, brown-bag lunches, parties, and weekend excursions; to helping us spread our love of geology to the community through community outreach events such as McClung Museum tours, Earth Science Day, Darwin Day, and helping out at the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society annual show. We also do our best in providing our students with the materials that they need to make their time at UT a success: in- house computer services, a study lounge, small grants for independent research and travel to professional conferences and workshops, and a wide variety of monetary awards and scholarships that are presented each Spring at Awards Day.

Concentrations in Geology and Environmental Studies

Students in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences may take one of two paths to obtain the BS degree in Geology and Environmental Studies. The first is the concentration in geology. This concentration emphasizes the physical, chemical, and biological processes on and in the Earth. The geology concentration has prerequisites and corequisites to provide the student with background in the physical and biological sciences, a set of core courses to introduce students to the application of those sciences to the study of the Earth, and a set of electives to expose the student to the specialties in geology. A student in the geology concentration is also required to take a course in field geology, generally taken during the summer term.

Students concentrating in environmental studies also take prerequisites and corequisites to prepare the student for the broad range of scientific and societal aspects of Earth's environment. The curriculum draws from courses in the biological sciences, Earth sciences, and social sciences to introduce the student to environmental studies. The student also selects courses of interest in environmental studies.

Both concentrations contain an honors option. Students who have completed five upper-division courses in either the Geology or Environmental Studies concentration and have maintained a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25 are encouraged to pursue an honors concentration. In addition to fulfilling all requirements for their preferred concentration, an honors concentration requires 3 hours of GES 491, GES 492, or GES 493; 3 hours of GES 497, during which students will complete written and oral presentation of thesis results; and an additional 9 hours of honors coursework (including honors-by-contract). A GPA of at least 3.25 must be maintained throughout matriculation. Interested students should consult their academic advisor for details.



 

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