On a warm summer day in early June, the geology laboratory on the first floor of the Padnos Hall of Science is buzzing with activity. Senior Maya Giannecchini is hunched over a rock saw, carefully gliding a 2.2 billion-year-old rock sample toward the whirling blade.
With geology professor Dylan Wilmeth keeping a watchful eye, Giannecchini intently guides the sliver of rock until it’s split cleanly in two. Giannecchini hopes the sample, which will be sent to the University of Michigan for analysis, can shed light on her research project.
Giannecchini was one of 22 students who presented and discussed their research and projects at the Summer Scholars Showcase on July 28 at the Seidman College of Business. Giannecchini and the other participating students spent the summer collecting data and working with mentors on their research.
Wilmeth took a party of his peers and student researchers, including Giannecchini and biology senior Garrett Brown, to the Upper Peninsula to collect samples of different rock formations in Marquette. Giannecchini said she’s been examining the fossilized bacterial mats within a rock formation known as Kona Dolomite, which contain Michigan’s oldest fossils and reveal a pivotal time in the earth’s history.
“These formed during a very interesting time when the earth's atmosphere was changing dramatically from no oxygen to oxygen that we can breathe and that organisms can live,” Giannechini said. “So part of the story is possibly these bacterial mats might have caused a rise in the global atmospheric oxygen.”
Giannecchini said the study of these particular rocks can unveil a mystery that’s been locked away for billions of years.
“I’ve always been interested in paleontology, but geology is a realm I’ve never really dived into before,” she said. “You’re used to seeing all about the T. rex, but these rocks tell a much broader story of what was changing about the earth and what makes it possible for us to be around and breathe today.”