Geologist – Senses

Music
Ambience: breaking rocks

Rocks have stories to tell us, but to understand what they’re saying, it may be a matter of using all of our senses. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. James Mungall is a professor of Geology at the University of Toronto. When he goes into the field, he gets up close and personal with an unidentified specimen.

“The kind of research that I do usually involves going into the field. I go and visit outcrops of rock, I look at the rocks. I feel them with my fingertips. I break them open with a hammer and feel them again and look at them again. I have a little magnifying glass, that I always keep in my pocket. You can actually smell the rocks when you break them, and you can taste them as well. Many rocks have rather distinctive odors when they’re broken. And we have a process that we refer to as getting your eye in. When you see the same rock having been weathered or metamorphosed in different ways, after a while you just get to recognize it. You’re not sure what feature of the rock you’re using, sometimes, to identify it. You just know what it is. The sound of a rock is also important. When you hit a rock with your hammer, it’ll make a different sound depending on what it’s made of and how the minerals are locked together. I’ve had rocks that rang like a bell, and other rocks are very dull and sodden sounding because the sound waves don’t travel through them very well. You can tell whether a rock is actually bedrock, connected right down to the center of the Earth or whether it’s just a big boulder suspended in soft soil by hitting it with your hammer, because if it’s not bedrock, you’ll hear a hollow kind of a thump when you hit it. If it’s connected to the bedrock, you don’t get that low frequency resonance.”

With the information gleaned from the sniffing, touching and tasting of rocks, geologists like Mungall can put together a picture of the layers of rock that compose our planet. We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner

Music

Geologist - Senses

To identify a rock, geologists have been known to smell and even taste their specimens.
Air Date:02/23/2006
Scientist:
Transcript:

Music
Ambience: breaking rocks

Rocks have stories to tell us, but to understand what they’re saying, it may be a matter of using all of our senses. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. James Mungall is a professor of Geology at the University of Toronto. When he goes into the field, he gets up close and personal with an unidentified specimen.

“The kind of research that I do usually involves going into the field. I go and visit outcrops of rock, I look at the rocks. I feel them with my fingertips. I break them open with a hammer and feel them again and look at them again. I have a little magnifying glass, that I always keep in my pocket. You can actually smell the rocks when you break them, and you can taste them as well. Many rocks have rather distinctive odors when they’re broken. And we have a process that we refer to as getting your eye in. When you see the same rock having been weathered or metamorphosed in different ways, after a while you just get to recognize it. You’re not sure what feature of the rock you’re using, sometimes, to identify it. You just know what it is. The sound of a rock is also important. When you hit a rock with your hammer, it’ll make a different sound depending on what it’s made of and how the minerals are locked together. I’ve had rocks that rang like a bell, and other rocks are very dull and sodden sounding because the sound waves don’t travel through them very well. You can tell whether a rock is actually bedrock, connected right down to the center of the Earth or whether it’s just a big boulder suspended in soft soil by hitting it with your hammer, because if it’s not bedrock, you’ll hear a hollow kind of a thump when you hit it. If it’s connected to the bedrock, you don’t get that low frequency resonance.”

With the information gleaned from the sniffing, touching and tasting of rocks, geologists like Mungall can put together a picture of the layers of rock that compose our planet. We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner

Music