Katie Jaeckel Solidifies Her Passion for Geology at Stockton

Editor’s Note: Distinctive Stockton Students features students who have received a Board of Trustees Fellowship for Distinguished Students. Katie Jaeckel is one of seven who received a fellowship this past fall.

Katie Jaeckel trekked through southwestern Utah to the nation’s second-largest iron deposit, known as the Iron Springs District, with the Stockton Geology Club last spring. She collected a dozen rock samples by hand—some larger than others.

“Dan carried a 50-pound mass of apatite and magnetite up and down hills to the van,” said Jaeckel, who visited the site on the Geology Club’s annual field trip to the western United States this past May. Her boyfriend, Dan Hemmerlin, and the entire club pitched in to help her gather samples.

A Fellowship for Distinguished Students will allow Jaeckel, of Bass River, to study the rocks she gathered to determine how the iron deposit formed. “Despite the large size and important economic value, it is still unclear as to how [the deposit] formed. This study will likely aid in determining where other economically viable iron deposits might form,” she said.

Katie Jaeckel

Dr. Pete Rowley, who is retired from the U.S. Geological Service and currently president of Geological Mapping, Inc., led the Stockton Geology students on a tour through Iron Springs.

The iron deposit looks like a mountain on the outside, but inside are beautiful crystals and the main mineral used to produce steel. “The mountain itself is the host rock, but veins of magnetite shoot through,” she explained. “Within the magnetite, there are extraordinary crystals of the mineral apatite. The apatite minerals could potentially hold Rare Earth Elements (REE).”

Rare Earth Elements are used in lasers, computers, phones and other technologies. It would be a “big deal” if she found them within her apatite crystal samples. Currently, the United States is dependent on China, the predominant supplier of these valuable elements.

To get a better picture of the iron formation, Jaeckel will send her rock samples away to be sliced into thin sections. “Thin sections look like a microscope slides with rock. The rock is so thin you can see through it,” she said.

Jaeckel will look at the thin sections through Stockton’s petrographic microscope to identify the minerals in the rocks. At the American Museum of Natural History, she’ll use an electron microprobe where “an electron beam shoots down [through the rock] and tells you the chemical make-up of a specific area.”

The fellowship will provide funds for the creation of the thin sections and data analysis at the museum.

Jaeckel carefully selected samples with fluid inclusions, which she described as fossil-like snapshots of the fluid that existed at the time of formation. The fluid inclusions are really important evidence because they give information such as temperature, pressure and composition of the fluid that crystalized into an iron deposit.

“The chemistry of the apatite will show if there are Rare Earth Elements. The studies done with the petrographic microscope and fluid inclusion stage will tell us how the deposit formed,” she said.

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“The black is the magnetite and the white is the apatite. This sample weighs around 45 lbs.,” said Jaeckel.

The results of Jaeckel’s study will be shared at the Geological Society of America’s northeastern section meeting this coming March and with the Stockton community at the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ poster day the following month.

Geology has always been a hobby for Jaeckel, but after transferring to Stockton College, it became much more.

It only took one course and a lab with Dr. Michael Hozik, professor of Geology, and Dr. Matthew (Rocky) Severs, assistant professor of Geology, for her to discover that she was meant to be a geologist. In three weeks her major was officially switched to Geology. “I instantly knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.

Jaeckel is a high jumper on Stockton’s women’s track and field team, a member of the Stockton Geology Club and vice president of the Stockton chapter of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.

“Geology is one of the sciences that has a lot of unknowns.”

“It’s hard to see what we study. The most valuable information available isn’t visible to the naked eye or it’s too deep to physically observe. It’s the unknown that’s exciting,” she explained.

“There’s so much we don’t know about the Iron Springs District. It’s the unknown that has the potential to be valuable to the geologic and mining communities. Now, it’s just a matter of figuring it out.”