Inside the Geology Lab, Drew Barkoff stands over a revolving blade that chisels a chunky, baseball-sized rock in half. A light cloud of powder dusts his sweatshirt during the process.
The senior Geology major needs to see the crystals locked inside the pegmatite samples he collected in Oxford County, Maine in August 2013 during a five-day research field experience with Dr. Matthew “Rocky” Severs.
Pegmatites are igneous rocks composed of large crystals. They are often storehouses of industrial and gem-type minerals and are sometimes enriched in rare Earth elements, which are used in solar panels, touch screens and modern technology.
The Distinguished Student Fellowship Program awarded Barkoff $1,000 to better understand the age and evolution of three pegmatite quarries that stand nearly side-by-side at the Maine site.
A few dozen pegmatite samples from the Oxford County quarries now live on the shelves of Stockton’s Geology Lab. Barkoff’s geochemical analysis seeks to determine why these three quarries have such different qualities (varieties of minerals) despite being located so close together and being part of the same pegmatic system.
Barkoff specifically used fluid inclusion analysis to study the mineralogy of the samples. During crystallization, fluid and gas can get trapped within rock. Geologists study pockets of trapped fluid, known as fluid inclusions, because they give a snapshot of the conditions at the time of rock formation.
“Complexity of the fluids is a driving factor that helps to determine the complexity of the mineralogy,” Barkoff said.
The Oxford quarries present a unique research opportunity because “they all contain very different qualities and types of minerals despite their closeness and being part of the same pegmatite zone,” he explained.
Barkoff’s goal is to map the geochemical evolution of the quarries by modeling the fluid flow. “Understanding the fluid evolution will hopefully aid in getting a better idea of where potential rare Earth elements or gem-enriched areas of this pegmatite and other similar pegmatites may be located which may have the potential to be mined in the future,” he said.
To tell the story of the evolution, Barkoff needs to know how old the pegmatite are and how the geochemistries of the fluid inclusions of each quarry differ.
Distinguished Fellowship funding from the Stockton Board of Trustees will pay for Barkoff to go to the University of Arizona this spring to perform radiometric dating inside Dr. Mark Pecha’s geochronology laboratory.
“I always liked science,” said Barkoff, a resident of Egg Harbor Township who first discovered his interest in geology at 13 when he earned the Boy Scout’s geology merit badge at summer camp. However, it wasn’t until he met Dr. Michael Hozik, professor of Geology, after transferring to Stockton from Ursinus College, where he studied biology, that he realized he wanted to pursue geology as a major.
His research experience is the beginning of a lifelong study and hopefully a career in geology, he says. He plans to go on to graduate school to continue research in the genre of ore deposit formation.
More than 90 percent of rare Earth elements are imported to the United States from China, and only two rare Earth element mines are active in the United States. “As a nation, we need to provide for ourselves,” Barkoff said.
“Drew is very active in the Geology program class-wise and socially through club activities. He goes out of his way to become engaged,” said Severs.
“It’s rare for a student to come in with that mindset in place,” he added.
Barkoff is president of the Stockton Geology Club and has traveled to Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon and Great Sand Dunes National Parks and two active mines in Colorado, Cripple Creek and Henderson, among other interesting geologic localities. This summer, the Geology Club will be heading to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Barkoff is taking a three-week summer Geology course in conjunction with Beijing Normal University in China, which has an exchange partnership with the college.
“Stockton offers amazing trips that students who are interested in this field of study should definitely take advantage of,” he said.
At the top of his most memorable experiences is hiking 9 miles to the base of the Grand Canyon on Hermit’s Trail with the Geology Club.
Barkoff said he knew he had chosen the right major as he looked up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to marvel at the 18-mile wide geologic wonder and to witness nearly two billion years of Earth’s history carved by the Colorado River.