May 05, 2006

Geology student wins two top research grants

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A graduate student in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's geology department, part of the College of Science, has won two top research grants that will enable him to study the rock structures formed in the Earth's mantle.

Kevin C. Butak is studying "Layering-forming mechanisms in mafic-ultramafic intrusions: constraints from magnetic fabrics and image analysis in the Stillwater Complex, Montana." His work centers on a 50-mile-long igneous rock formation in Montana that was formed billions of years ago when molten material from within the vast middle layer of the Earth's structure seeped upward into the crust.

Butak said the hot iron and magnesium-rich rock pushed through the planet's thin crust about 2.7 billion years ago where it cooled and solidified into layers.

Butak typically travels to Montana to collect samples from the area. He then brings them back to SIUC where he analyzes them using instruments that measure the magnetic properties of the rock and other imaging techniques.

Butak hopes to learn more about the processes that originally formed the molten rock into layers as it cooled. Understanding this process might allow scientists to better predict the location of mineral deposits normally associated with such rock formations, Butak said.

Two geology groups awarded Butak grants. Most recently the Geological Society of America awarded him a $2,100 grant to pursue the project. Prior to that, the Society of Economic

Geologists Inc. gave him a Hugh E. McKinstry Student Research Award of $1,500 to assist with field and laboratory expenses for thesis research. The McKinstry grants typically support students who plan substantial fieldwork as part of their research.

Butak, who received his bachelor of science degree in geology in 2005 at SIUC, will use the money to defer travel expenses and to pay for an outside laboratory to prepare ultra-thin sections of the samples he collects for microscopic viewing. The sections allow him to examine the microstructures and identify the minerals deposited therein.

Each section, which measures about 30 microns thick, costs about $20 each to prepare and Butak means to use a lot of them.

Butak is originally from St. Charles, Ill. and expects to complete his master's degree in geology in 2007. He is the son of Kevin and Marianne Butak of Gardiner, Maine.

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.