Introductory Geology

Geology of the Bennington Region: The stunning landscapes seen from Bennington’s campus were sculpted by geologic processes over millions of years. Bennington College lies near an ancient boundary, along which the Proto-North American continent’s coast collided with other continental fragments more than 400 million years ago to build the continent as we see it today. The Bennington region is an excellent natural laboratory to study both internal and external Earth processes and to learn how continents are built. This course will introduce basic geologic concepts, including plate tectonics, geologic time, Earth materials, rock-forming processes, the water cycle, erosion, and glacial flow. Students will explore how these processes acted locally by applying field, mapping, and laboratory techniques to study rocks, sediments, and landscapes. Students will be expected to participate actively in field excursions and laboratory exercises, and to independently acquire and analyze data. Field trips may require moderate physical activity.

Environmental Geology: Earthʹs life‐supporting environmental systems are controlled by a complex interplay between geologic and biological processes acting both on the surface and deep within the planetary interior. This course will explore how earth materials and physical processes contribute to a healthy environment, and how humans impact geologic processes. Topics covered will include earth resources, natural hazards, water resources and pollution, soil formation and depletion, coastal processes, energy resources, and climate change. Students will be expected to examine these topics from both scientific and societal perspectives. This course will include Saturday field trips that require moderate physical activity.

Advanced Geology

Earth Materials: The study of minerals and rocks is fundamental to earth science as well as to understanding and developing solutions for most environmental problems. All products consumed by people are either directly removed from the earth or grown in a medium consisting largely of earth materials. The nature of the earth materials in any region has great bearing on how human activities will impact the environment there. Through this course, students will build an understanding of how the chemistry of minerals influences geologic and environmental processes, how rocks form within the earth, how to identify common rock-forming minerals, and how to classify rock types. The course will include field trips to local sites during class periods and on several Saturdays throughout the term. Prior coursework in geology is required. Prior coursework in chemistry is recommended.

Bedrock Geology: Understanding solid‐earth processes requires detailed observations of both the mineralogical/chemical makeup of rocks and of textures and structures within rocks. The emphasis of the course will be on field and laboratory observation of rock textures and structures, including depositional features that allow us to interpret how the rocks formed, and tectonic/metamorphic features that can help us determine how plate tectonic activity modified the rocks since their formation. Students will be expected to become proficient at field observation skills and laboratory methods used to interpret field data. This is an intermediate/advanced level course that assumes prior knowledge of earth systems.

Environmental Hydrology: Fresh water is perhaps the world’s scarcest and most critical resource. Giant engineering projects are built to control water distribution, wars and legal battles are fought over who controls water, and the problems will only get worse as populations grow. This course is a broad survey of hydrology, the study of the distribution, movement, and quality of water. Students will be expected to perform quantitative analysis of water budgets and movements through earth systems including rivers, lakes, artificial reservoirs, and groundwater. The focus will be on practical applications and people’s access to safe water. This course will require several field trips within and outside of normal class time.

Geographic Information Systems

Intro to Maps and Geographic Information Systems: This is an introductory course on the theory and practice of analyzing and displaying quantitative and spatial information. The methods covered have a wide range of applications in the natural and social sciences. Students will learn how to utilize software to analyze large datasets and how to plot information on graphs and maps using spreadsheet programs, graphing programs, computerized algebra systems, and geographic information systems (GIS). Students will be expected to develop their own work and are encouraged to use data from other classes or projects.

Spatial Data Analysis and GIS: This is a practical course in the methods used to collect, analyze, display, and communicate spatial information. These methods are critical to the fields of geology, hydrology, ecology, environmental science, and engineering, and include compass and GPS data collection, projections, 3-D analysis, map and cross-section construction, and the use of analysis tools in geographic information systems (GIS) software. This course is project based; students will be expected to develop their own work and will be encouraged to address inquiries from other classes or independent studies. Students will be expected to have some familiarity with GIS.


Physics I – Forces and Motion: Physics is the study of what Newton called “the System of the World.” To know the System of the World is to know what forces are out there and how those forces operate on things. These forces explain the dynamics of the world around us: from the path of a falling apple to the motion of a car down the highway to the flight of a rocket from the Earth. Careful analysis of the forces that govern these motions reveal countless insights about the world around you and enable you to look at that world with new eyes. While there are no explicit prerequisites for this course, proficiency with algebra is assumed.

Physics II – Fields: How does influence travel from one thing to another? In Newton’s mechanics of particles and forces, influences travel instantaneously across arbitrarily far distances. Newton himself felt this to be incorrect, but he did not suggest a solution to this problem of “action at a distance.” To solve this problem, we need a richer ontology: The world is made not only of particles, but also of fields. As in-depth examples of the field concept, we study the theory and applications of the electric field and the magnetic field, including Maxwell’s explanation of light as an electromagnetic wave. The surprising resolution of the dichotomy of particle versus field will be the wave-particle duality of quantum theory.

Applied Physics/Engineering Physics – Deformation of Solids: In order to ensure peoples’ safety, any structure, be it a building, a nuclear reactor, a dam, an embankment, or a natural hillside, must be able to withstand the stresses that are placed on it by its environment. You will learn how forces cause stress within solid materials and how to map the three‐dimensional state of stress through a material. We will apply concepts of material science to predict how the stress state of a material causes it to deform and predict how, and at what load, a structure will fail. Students will learn how to reduce natural settings and designs to simplified models that can be analyzed mathematically.


Astrogeology (co-taught with Hugh Crowl): This course will investigate the physical conditions and processes necessary for creating a habitable planet. We will study the formation of stars and planets, and the evolution of planets after formation into safe harbors for life. This will include investigation of how both stellar and geological processes affect the habitability of planets. We will use the Earth and our solar system as a case study for the successful formation of a life-harbor and will use this knowledge to look outward for other Earths among the thousands of planets being discovered elsewhere in our galaxy.

Environmental Back-of-the-Envelope Calculations: Have you ever heard environmental factoids such as, “recycling one aluminum can saves enough electricity to run a TV for 3 hours” or “installing 1 megawatt of wind energy saves 2,600 tons of carbon dioxide” and wondered how these numbers are calculated, or if they are even close to realistic? Have you ever wondered how many wind turbines or solar panels we would need to install in order to get our electricity without burning coal? These types of approximations are relatively easy to make using simple math along with reasonable estimations and assumptions. This module will present the knowledge and skills needed to quickly distinguish reasonable claims from wild inaccuracies, and good ideas from half-baked notions.