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    GEOL 390: Laboratory Techniques in Geology


    The syllabus for GEOL 390: Laboratory Techniques in Geology, taught at James Madison University by Dr. Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Steve J. Baedke.


    GEOL 390

    Laboratory Techniques in Geology

    Spring 2020






    Office Hours

    Steve J. Baedke



    T Th 9:00-10:00 and by appt

    Elizabeth Johnson




    Tues 1-2:30 and by appt


    Class Meets:          M 11:15 AM - 2:15 PM and W 1:25-2:15 PM  Locations:            EnGeo Room 3022 and research laboratories.

    Course Description:  A study of the basic theories and techniques of laboratory methods and instrumentation. Implementation and application of techniques to geological problems. Prerequisites: GEOL 280 and permission of the instructor(s).  

    Few undergraduate programs have the analytical resources and expertise that are available in our department, so this course provides a unique opportunity to learn about instrumentation that is commonly used in the geosciences, both in research and in industry and environmental professions.  

    This semester, we plan to cover: Water: Atomic Absorption (AA) Spectroscopy, Ion

    Chromatography, Isotope-Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS), Rocks: Making Thin Sections, Vibrational Spectroscopy (Raman/FTIR), and Scanning Electron Microscopy / Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (SEM/EDS).  

    Course Objectives:  Students will be able to:  

    1. Use written, visual, and verbal instruction to safely and accurately work in a research laboratory environment.
    2. Demonstrate your ability to work independently and in groups.
    3. Describe the theoretical basis for each analytical technique.
    4. Describe how each instrument works.
    5. Describe the history and uses of each technique, particularly in the geosciences.
    6. Write a detailed protocol for how to use each instrument, based upon lab notes and other resources.
    7. Prepare samples correctly for analysis.
    8. Use each instrument to collect data, within the scope allowed in this course.
    9. Evaluate the quality of data, including sample preparation errors and analytical errors.
    10. Distinguish between analytical error and natural variation.
    11. Present data in a precise and accurate fashion in graphs and tables.
    12. Write clearly and concisely about analytical instrumentation and scientific data.

    Required Text: None to purchase. You will write your own textbook, in a way. The resources for this course are presented differently for each section. All available materials will be posted or linked to through Canvas.  You are responsible for taking notes in class, which are another required resource.  

    For Dr. Baedke, you should print out or bring digital copies of lecture materials provided on Canvas before you come to class.  These notes are given to you only to ease the burden of copying definitions, diagrams, numbers, etc. from the PowerPoints that are presented in class.  

    Dr. J is in the process of developing an online textbook for instrumentation in this course, including videos, text, images, and reference lists.   Most of these materials, including video lectures, are online, and we are likely to have in-class discussions based upon questions about online materials, rather than lectures. See: and

    Course Grading Policy:

    You will earn a grade for each of the modules (Dr. Baedke water / Dr. Johnson rocks). 

    These two grades will be averaged equally to determine your final grade for the course.  Additionally, the timely completion of your compiled lab report book (see below) will represent a total of 5% of your total grade. Therefore, each “half” of the course (water or rocks) is worth 47.5% of your course grade, regardless of the order in which we cover topics (see schedule at the end of the syllabus).  

    The biggest predictors of success in a course are attitude and motivation. You, the student, earn your course grade – it is not “given” to you. The grades received at the end of the semester will reflect your understanding, application, and communication of the concepts we examine in this course.    

    The grade for each session will be determined from a combination of assignments and your professional behavior (see section below).  The exact assignments and deadlines will be described separately by each instructor for their specific session.  Assignments may include: 

    • Homework, including notes or answering questions based upon readings
    • Lab reports
    • Lab notes
    • Lab exercises or skills assessments  

    Deadlines are non-negotiable.  It is each student's responsibility to communicate their questions, progress, and any issues they encounter to the faculty.  

    Late assignments are accepted but will be penalized 10% per day they are late.  No assignments are accepted after being late more than 3 days.  

    Rather than a "Final Exam," the final compiled lab book report will be due on Monday, May 4.  

    Course Learning Progression:

    Because we are taking a tour through different instrumentation, each report is not based upon previous reports on different instrumentation, per se.  However, there is a learning progression that is developed through the semester, particularly for skills and common concepts across analytical methods.   

    For example, we will provide more detailed explanations about what to include in reports at the beginning of the semester, but will intentionally provide fewer guidelines as the semester progresses.  Writing, graphing, and data analysis skills are transferrable across analytical techniques.  Some theory may be applicable, or partially applicable, to multiple techniques.  

    It is important to not fall behind in the readings and assignments.  Please ask questions or get extra help if it is needed.  Your grade will reflect your effort and ability.  

    Professional Behavior:

    This course prepares students for work in a professional position and/or as a graduate student researcher.  Therefore, you are expected to behave at all times as if you were in either of these job settings.  Students should:

    • Demonstrate a good work ethic. You are expected to come to every class unless there is a medical emergency or other excused absence, and arrive on time for all scheduled class meetings as well as any additional lab times as arranged with the instructor.
    • Contribute equally to group work.
    • Respect your instructors, colleagues, and the equipment. A collegial environment is a minimum requirement in this course.  You will communicate in person and by e-mail in a professional manner to your instructors and colleagues.  Failure to communicate in a professional manner, at any time or with any person, will result in an immediate failing grade in this course.
    • Be responsible. You will follow the directions given by the instructors and follow safety protocols at all times.  If you/your group are using equipment, it is your responsibility to stop work and inform the instructor if something is wrong with the equipment or if you break something. You are expected to clean up after yourself and to perform proper shut-down procedures after your lab session.
    • Be patient and persistent.  The analytical equipment you will work with in this class is expensive and complex and is not easy to maintain.  You will expect that something (maybe many things) will not work correctly.  You should expect to redo analyses repeatedly until you are sure that the method was completed and the equipment operated correctly.  Your scientific reputation and those of your advisor/employer are dependent upon careful, correct measurements.
    • Be honest!  Any false or misleading reporting of anything happening in the lab, or reporting of data will result in a failing grade in the class and an immediate report forwarded to the Honor Council.
    • Have a positive attitude! Bad attitudes and behavior always translate to bad science.  Rather than becoming upset or disinterested when something does not work correctly, or your results are not what you expected, take any setback as a learning opportunity.  The best way to learn how an instrument works is to try to fix it when it is broken!
    • Observe safety protocols.  Safety will be explained for each laboratory and piece of instrumentation. Do not eat and drink in the labs.

    The instructors will deduct points at their discretion from assignment or course grades due to unprofessional behavior.            

    Course Policies Lab Safety:

    Your safety (and the safety of your peers in the course) is a priority in this course.  You should not be enrolled in this class if you cannot: 1) safely perform all lab activities, 2) safely operate all lab equipment, 3) safely work in the lab space and access and operate all emergency equipment (emergency showers, eyewashes, fire extinguishers, etc.).  

    The influence of any drug (prescribed or illegal) that would interfere with your judgment or reaction time is not allowed while you are enrolled in this course.  

    Academic Honesty: Any form of academic dishonesty will result in a zero for assignment, as well as possible disciplinary action. See the JMU Honor Code at:  

    Please be aware that sharing, duplicating, selling, or uploading documents from this class is a violation of academic honesty at JMU as well as a violation of copyright, which is owned by Dr.’s Johnson and Baedke, JMU, and others collaborating with us on projects.  Please talk with us if you have questions regarding academic honesty.  

    Participation in Class: Students are responsible for all material covered in class, and thus your attendance is expected at all sessions. Students that have prior knowledge of absences for lectures or exams owing to athletic, band, or other legitimate JMU sponsored activities should give the faculty at least one week prior notice of the absence.

    Policy on Adding/Dropping Courses

    You are responsible for registering for classes and for verifying their class schedules on e-campus.  If you decide to drop this class, you are also responsible for doing so in accordance with the JMU Drop/Add policy.  This policy is available here: and  

    Disability Accommodations

    If you need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability, you should contact the Office of Disability Services (Student Success Center, Suite 1202,, 540-568-6705) if you have not previously done so. Disability Services will provide you with an Access Plan Letter that will verify your need for services and make recommendations for accommodations to be used in the classroom. Once you have presented us with this letter, we will sit down and review the course requirements, your disability characteristics, and your requested accommodations to develop an individualized plan for this class.  

    Inclement Weather Policies

    We will abide by JMU’s cancellation policy for inclement weather 

    (  In most instances, we will make up the missed class during the first scheduled official make-up day.  

    Religious Observation Accommodations

    You are required to notify the instructors by no later than the end of the Drop-Add period the first week of the semester of potential scheduled absences for any religious activity.  We will plan for a mutually acceptable method to make up missed material or tests.  

    Other Information

    Please refer to the Student Syllabi Resource Web site ( for more information about:

    • JMU Attendance Policy
    • Academic Honesty / Honor Council Statement
    • Adding/Dropping Courses Policy
    • Disability Accommodations
    • Inclement Weather Policy
    • Religious Observation Accommodations


    GEOL 390 Topical Outline

    A frequently updated topical outline will be posted on the course Canvas website.  This schedule may need to be modified due to inclement weather, lab construction or maintenance, or illness.  

    The approximate schedule will be:  

    4 weeks: Thin sections and SEM/EDS (Rocks)

    4 weeks: AA and IC (Water)

    Spring Break

    2-3 weeks: IRMS (Water)

    1. weeks: Raman/FTIR (Rocks)

    1-1.5 weeks: Wrap up the semester (final compilation and survey)  

    Modifications to the syllabus from COVID-19: 

    The schedule was:  

    1. weeks: Thin sections and SEM/EDS (Rocks)

    4 weeks: AA and IC (Water)

    Spring Break 

    1 week: Finish IC

    4 weeks: Raman/FTIR (Rocks)

    1 week: IRMS (Water)

    Final compilation   


    Course Grade:



    Water: 47.5%

    Thin Section Report: 20%

    IC Report: 40%

    Rocks:  47.5%

    SEM/EDS Report: 30%

    AA Report: 40%

    Final Compilation:  5%


    Report(s): 50%

    IRMS Report: 20%

    Total:  100%

    Professional behavior (up to -5%)