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Career Profiles

Marjorie A. Chan

Geology Professor

Marjorie was attracted to geology as a child when she collected minerals and fossils. Her fascination with the formation of crystals and the preservation of fossils led her to study geology. Her father, a marine biologist, took the family on many field trips where she often saw live creatures that closely resembled the fossils she collected. The chemistry, physics, and math classes she took in high school prepared her well for geology. Her love of the outdoors also led her to a career where she does not have to be at a desk all the time.

In her work, Marjorie studies sedimentary rocks that formed in shallow oceans and shorelines. Sandstones from these environments are commonly good oil reservoirs. Sedimentary rocks contain fossils (which tell about environmental conditions and the age of the rock) and sedimentary structures (which tell about the processes that formed the rocks millions of years ago). Examples of structures would be ripple marks at the beach, raindrop impressions in sediment, footprints of a reptile, or stacked pebbles in a river bed.

Marjorie's work consists of both field and laboratory studies . In the field she goes to where the rocks are well exposed and measures the rock exposures. She determines the thickness of beds and units, and records the structures in these beds. She uses a compass to measure which way structures face to tell her what direction the water or wind might have been moving. She also samples different rock types and takes the samples back to the laboratory to examine the mineral contents under a microscope or to do various chemical analyses. Her work as a sedimentologist is a little bit like being a detective. She tries to use clues left behind, such as the sedimentary structures, to reconstruct what happened in the past, or "at the scene of the crime". She likes a good mystery! Understanding the geologic past helps her understand the environmental conditions as well as the distribution of rocks that may hold oil and gas reservoirs.

Marjorie thinks being a geologist and a professor is great fun. She enjoys being outdoors and travelling to different places, sometimes where very few people have been. She has worked in remote areas of Alaska and on the beautiful Oregon coastline. She now works mainly on the Colorado Plateau, an especially nice place because the scenery is so breath-taking in national parks such as Arches and Canyonlands. However, there are hot 114 ºF days, and sometimes the biting gnats are particularly nasty! Being a professor at the University of Utah means that she also teaches students. It is very satisfying to introduce geology to students and to see many of her advanced students continue in careers as geologists and science educators.

Marjorie and her husband have one son who is an active toddler. They take him out in the field and sometimes put him in a backpack for longer hikes. Marjorie enjoys sewing clothes, going on bike rides, and scouring estate sales for antiques and bargains. Her other hobbies include photography, Chinese cooking, and collecting Navajo rugs.