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 Rock Students to Share Geologic Research with Members of U.S. Congress 



Feb. 21, 2003

CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine (724) 738-4854;  e-mail:


           SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Three Slippery Rock University students who researched landscape development in Badlands National Park, S.D., have been invited to present their research to the U.S. Congress via a symposium. Students will summarize their work and attend a reception in the nation’s capital April 1.

            Bradley Erney of Dover, Michael Jahn of Butler, and Erin Heffron of Minersville were invitedby the Council on Undergraduate Research to participate in its “Posters on the Hill” program. Posters on the Hill provides a platform for presenting outstanding undergraduate research once a year to the nation’s lawmakers.

           The SRU trio was accepted based on their abstract, said SRU’s Dr. Patrick Burkhart, associate professor of geography, geology and the environment. The abstract is titled “Magnetic Susceptibility Studies of Paleosols to Advance the Understanding of Paleoclimate in Badlands National Park, South Dakota.”

            The Posters on the Hill session will be held in the Rayburn House Office Building, with many members of Congress in attendance, Burkhart said.

 Erney and Jahn are environmental geoscience majors. Heffron is in the Environmental Studies Program. Both are signature programs at The Rock.

           “It’s not too often in one’s lifetime that the opportunity to meet with members of Congress on a one-on-one basis comes by,” Jahn said.  “Knowing that, I plan on taking advantage of this opportunity to ensure future research and job possibilities for myself as well as SRU.”

Three weeks in a wind-swept prairie

           Students, along with Burkhart and assistant Professor Dr. Jack Livingston, visited the Badlands last May to study climate change and decipher the origins of the landscape. They found clues, including many soils more than 2,000 years old.

           The Badlands are renowned for layers of soil called “sod tables.” Resembling a flight of stairs, they provide a glimpse of climatic variation because each layer represents a period of stability, which was later interrupted by erosion or deposition of additional sediment, Burkhart said.

 The goal of the study was to identify distinctive paleosols – old buried soils – that could be dated and used to correlate sod tables at various locations. Radiocarbon dates are being interpreted and should assist in placing the study into the context of climate change on the High Plains.

           “Watching the students learn to prosper under harsh conditions, make discoveries and developas scholars has been very enjoyable,” Burkhart said.

            Editor’s Note: Jahn graduated from Butler Area High School; Erney from Dover Area High School; and Heffron from Minersville Area High School.

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