Jonathan Traylor '10 Looks Beneath Surface at Cannon Point

Jonathan Traylor '10
Jonathan Traylor '10
To the east of North America are the White Mountains of New Hampshire. To the north, the Monteregian Hills of Quebec. Just west of these is Cannon Point, a cape on Lake Champlain near Essex, N.Y. These three formations typify the uncommon magmatic activity (behavior of molten rock) in the Northeast. Moving past Cannon Point to the west, a person would be hard pressed to find any magmatic features before coming upon the magnificent Rocky Mountains. That makes Cannon Point a rarity among eastern rock structures, and its magnetic igneous intrusions make up the western-most activity of the region. Jonathan Traylor ’10 is studying these rocks to see what they might say about regional magmatic activity that dates back to the Cretaceous period.

“It’s kind of an outlier over there,” Traylor said. “We’re trying to figure out how that fits into the scheme of things.” He is working with Associate Professor of Geosciences David Bailey on the project, which will be the cornerstone of future professional research in this area.

Traylor’s first experience doing field work was rugged and demanding. He set his eyes on the perilous cliff that hung over the water at Cannon Point. There was no beach at the bottom, let alone a walkway, so the two researchers resorted to wading through the shallow water and climbing over the fallen trees that rested in it. They stopped to collect samples and carried them in backpacks.

Lab procedures also tested Traylor’s ability to focus on what was often monotonous, but crucial and sensitive, work. He and Bailey spent several days crushing rocks into small billets the size of a thumb. Then they sent the samples to a company that glued the billets onto a piece of glass and ground them down to 30 microns (or 30 millionths of a meter) so that light could pass through them. This helped identify the major minerals and larger phenocrysts (conspicuous crystals) in the crust.
The physical stimulation alone validates Traylor’s reason for choosing to major and attend graduate school in geosciences rather than environmental studies. He loves hands-on learning, and says that, for his purposes, environmental studies required too much theory and reading. However, he thinks the two concentrations are similar and each has many attractive facets.

In late June and early July, Traylor and Bailey prepared the samples for ICPS (inductively coupled plasma arc spectroscopy). ICPS creates argon plasma, a flame-like material, by pumping energy into a stream of argon through high-energy radio waves. This involved crushing and grinding each of 14 samples into a fine powder, and the machines had to be cleaned after every sample. Once the samples were shaved and whittled down to just the right shape, they sent them to Washington State University, where ICPS traced hidden elements in the rock.

Traylor found the entire saga exciting and, at times, incredible.

“One of the coolest things was making the glass disks for the ICPS,” he said. He described a “super-furnace” that heats up to 1000 degrees Celsius (or about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit). Arm hair burns easily if those using the furnace do not wear giant gloves. Traylor remembers putting the rock powder inside and watching it turn to glass after an hour of blazing cookery.

“Hydrology professor Todd Rayne was quoted as saying, ‘You could bake a pizza in five seconds in there,’” Traylor explained. “I would agree, but even five seconds would have it extra crispy.”
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