‘Zircons and Hell?’ focus of Chauncey D. Holmes Lecture and award ceremony

February 6, 2012

Twelve Syracuse University undergraduate students will be recognized for excellence in introductory earth science during the annual Chauncey D. Holmes Lecture and award ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. in Heroy Auditorium, located in the Heroy Geology Laboratory. The featured speaker for the event will be John Valley, the Charles R. Van Hise Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, presenting “Zircons from Hell?”

A reception will be held immediately prior to the lecture outside Heroy Auditorium. The event is presented by the Department of Earth Sciences K. Douglas Nelson Colloquium Series in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences and is free and open to the public. Paid parking is available in the University’s visitor lots.

Valley studies conditions that were present shortly after the Earth formed by investigating the mineral zircon found in some of the oldest rocks on Earth. He has conducted fieldwork in Asia, Australia and Europe, and extensively in New York state’s Adirondack Mountains. “The earliest Earth was highly energetic and had a steam-rich atmosphere,” Valley says, “but how long did the ‘hell-like’ conditions last and what came next?”

It’s a mystery that scientists hope to resolve by studying zircon. They’ve found zircon crystals as old as 4,400 million years—1,400 million years older than the rock in which they are entrapped. “These zircons provide direct evidence of geologic activity prior to 4 billion years ago,” Valley says. “But while zircon analysis answers some questions about the conditions that were present when they formed, the research fuels debate on a number of other issues. Are the zircons evidence of early granites, continents and plate tectonics? When did the Earth’s surface cool? Why are there no known rocks older than 4 billion years?”

Valley is a fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Mineralogical Society of America, the Geochemical Society and the American Geophysical Union. He has published more than 280 professional papers and is dedicated to developing procedures for microanalysis and novel applications of stable isotope geochemistry. He holds a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

Alumnus Chauncey Holmes G’27, who received a master’s degree in geology from SU in 1927, established the Chauncey D. Holmes Award. An esteemed geologist, Holmes considered raising geologic awareness among undergraduate students a prime objective of his academic career. The awards were established to recognize outstanding students in introductory geology courses.

Recipients of the 2012 Chauncey D. Holmes Awards are:

  • Alberto Alvarado, a sophomore in the Whitman School of Management
  • Luke Andrews, a junior in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science
  • Amanda Cariddi, a freshman in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management
  • Tessa Carlson, a sophomore in The College of Arts and Sciences
  • Carolyn Da Chunha, a sophomore in The College of Arts and Sciences
  • Gregory Jacks, a sophomore in The College of Arts and Sciences
  • Preston Jessee, a sophomore in The College of Arts and Sciences
  • Peter Nelson, a junior in The College of Arts and Sciences
  • Drew Shapiro, a sophomore in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
  • Molly Shea, a junior in The College of Arts and Sciences
  • Rose Tardiff, a sophomore in The College of Arts and Sciences
  • John Wilson, a sophomore in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics