Geology field research

Earth Science

At Bennington, students work closely with faculty to design the content, structure, and sequence of their study and practice—their Plan—taking advantage of resources inside and outside the classroom to pursue their work. 

How might a volcanic eruption both destroy crops and make soils more fertile? How do we know that the evolution of photosynthesis caused a major mass-extinction event? Why do earthquakes occur more often in some places than others? Earth science seeks to understand how chemical and physical processes create the landscapes and materials around us.

While earth science is essentially applied physical science, it is not possible to perform meaningful lab experiments on something as big and slow-changing as a planet. Therefore, earth science is inherently an observational science. To understand Earth processes, students must learn how to make subtle observations of minerals, rocks, soils, structures, and landscapes and place their observations within a theoretical framework based on physics and chemistry.

Bennington students wishing to write a plan to study earth science need to take supporting coursework in chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Students may also wish to take advantage of the close working relationship between Bennington faculty members, and integrate their studies with astronomy or ecology.

It is an exciting time to study earth science. Not only are we working on some of our most pressing environmental problems (climate change, water shortages, soil protection), for the first time in history we are obtaining significant observations and data on planetary bodies bodies besides our own. Additionally, new technologies are allowing us to make more and better observations of the Earth than ever before, and advances in computer modelling are allowing us to understand processes and make more useful predictions that protect people’s lives and health.

Student Work

Current Courses


Tim Schroeder applies physical and chemical principles to understand interactions between deep-Earth and shallow-Earth systems. His courses are based on the idea that geology begins as an observational science, but that understanding Earth observations requires a physical sciences context.