Blog: Geosciences student internship on environmental research - The University of Tulsa
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Blog: Geosciences student internship on environmental research

Geosciences student Cailin Stauffer sitting on a rock outcroppingMy name is Cailin Stauffer. I am a junior year geoscience undergraduate student. This summer, I had the opportunity to work as a geosciences intern at Lithochimeia LLC in Tulsa. Lithochimeia, ran by President Bert Fisher and his partner, Blake Redden, is an environmental geosciences consultant company that works to help people with cases involving the environment and geology. Throughout the summer, I assisted on cases that mainly dealt with people whose geology on their property was damaged from oil and gas operations. With Oklahoma being one of the leading states for oil and gas, there are many abandoned wells throughout the state. The main consequence of abandoned wells is the saltwater that leaks into the local geology. When this happens, the chemistry of the soil is altered and leads to vegetation being injured or dying. This can cause issues with trying to sell property and with the quality of the farmland. With Oklahoma being an agriculturally heavy culture, this can completely disrupt a person’s livelihood and life savings.

Cailin Stauffer on the job for her geosciences internshipMy project for the summer was to organize and analyze photos from a case involving a chicken farm. The chicken farm is located next to a neighborhood and has deteriorated the quality of life for the families in their homes. The case is against what is believed to be a major culprit of the issues: the trucks that travel to and from the farm. The clients saw the trucks driving by without tarps covering the chicken feed and litter, leaving them to fly out every time they travel. Over time, this has caused the quality of air to go down in chemistry, clarity and smell. They also claimed that they were driving by their home regularly through the night. The best way to prove the claims was to set up a camera at the client’s home and take pictures of every vehicle that drove by. Over the summer, I organized more than 10,000 pictures of vehicles. After doing this, I analyzed the occurrence of poultry-related trucks in different scenarios. Some being the time of day, if they’re following proper protocol, direction of travel and more. The figures and graphs I created from the various data sets are going to be used in the court trial for the case. It was a great experience to be able to create figures that will be used in real-world settings, especially one that is used for the benefit of other people.

When I was not at my desk, I was able to assist in many field trips throughout Oklahoma and Texas. I was fortunate to get out in the field at least one day a week and learn something new every time. My role as the intern was to collect all the scientific data in the field notebook, take pictures of evidence that will be used as evidence, collect and help ship soil samples and shadow the use of field instruments. This was a great opportunity to know more about the laws and theories I’ve learned in geology and physics classes at TU. I learned how to collect and prepare samples that are sent off to labs for testing. In a legal setting, every step needs to be taken correctly. Collecting the right number of samples, writing forms to show the transaction of samples from us to the lab and taking photos of evidence-specific ways all go into running a smooth operation while consulting.

Cailin Stauffer onsite doing a material study for her geosciences internshipThe main instrument that I learned about was the EM31-MK2, which is used to measure the electricity and resistivity of local materials. This instrument is handheld, meaning that the person carrying it can make a grid of the local environment while on foot. As the person walks back and forth to make the grid, the instrument is detecting the measurements to about 6 meters of depth below the surface. When salt is added to groundwater, it separates into sodium ions and chloride ions that float freely in the water and increases its conductivity. This characteristic of saltwater allows the EM31’s measure of electricity to directly measure the contamination of the local groundwater. After the grid is made in the field, the data is sent into geophysical programs to turn the numbers into a map of the overall electricity that can be read and used in court. The maps show the level of contamination at every point inside the grid, allowing the likely source to be shown. This was a great experience to see how different geophysical programs work with real-world data.

My experience this summer was filled with opportunities to learn every day. While getting to find and use real data, I was able to contribute to helping the environment and other people. One of the reasons I enjoy studying geosciences is knowing that I am gaining the knowledge that can help impact our planet, no matter how small. So, getting to do that as an undergraduate student has been an experience for which I am grateful. I was also able to gain mentors who have taught at TU and have given me guidance not only for college but for life.