Larry at the type locality of trachyte - the Drachenfels, Siebengebirge, summer 1997

 

Laurence J. Mutti 

Professor of Geology
A.B., Beloit College, 1971, summa cum laude
A.M., Ph. D., Harvard University, 1978
 
Chair, Dept. of Geology
Juniata College
Huntingdon, PA 16652
(814) 641-3601
mutti@juniata.edu 

For a long time I've maintained that geology is the quintessential liberal arts degree. It draws on each of the other sciences, it is decidedly historical, its subject matter impinges on social, political and economic institutions and behavior, and doing geology is a profoundly aesthetic experience and offers one a considerable amount of artistic license. I can find a link between geology and almost everything else. And that suits me fine, because my interests touch almost every discipline or current event. But geology is not only about the present. To me that is one of the beauties of a geological understanding. Time becomes an enormous backdrop, and instants in time, while engaging and even important, take on a different significance when seen in the context of millions or billions of years.

I'm also interested in change - how the earth changes, how rocks and minerals change when subjected to different environments, how societies and cultures change, and how we as individuals change. Geology lets me explore some of that in great detail, and I find that what I learn about change in rocks, and models for understanding change in rocks, actually helps me to understand change in myself or in my society.

I grew up in a land of agricultural richness (east central Illinois) whose very bounty was built on the glacial plunder of nourishing soil minerals from Wisconsin and Canada, transported to Illinois. The cultural environment in my home town, Champaign-Urbana, was also rich, with an ongoing exposure to students from other lands or from different environments. Some small portion of those people found their way into my home, as friends, students or advisees of my parents. I didn't take any persuading when given the chance to spend what would have been my senior year in high school with my family in an upcountry village in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I still draw on that experience today, part of the reason I am a strong supporter of our International Programs at Juniata.

Returning to Wisconsin after my year in Africa, I pursued an undergraduate degree at Beloit College. It was there that I first learned about geology and discovered that I really loved it. Key to that experience was the close interaction I had with faculty mentors, who respected and challenged me from my first class, and the outstanding opportunities I was given to see rocks in the field. Those experiences strongly color my approach to teaching and learning.

After Beloit, I spent a 2-year interlude doing alternative service, during which I got married to Ginny Foust. I then continued my studies at Harvard University, spending one summer doing field work in the Western White Mountains of New Hampshire and three more summers in the metamorphic core to the Canadian Rockies - the Shuswap of British Colombia. My five years in the Boston area were enriching and stimulating, but after finishing my doctorate I was ready to return to a smaller community.

Since 1978 I have been teaching in the Geology Department at Juniata College. My interests have evolved from a focal interest in structural geology to petrogenesis, crystallography and crystal chemistry. I currently teach courses in Mineralogy, Petrography, the Petrology of Igneous and Metamorphic Rocks, the Geochemistry of Natural Water, and Mineral Economics, Politics and Law. In the early days of my involvement with the geology department at Juniata I taught courses in Economic Geology and Geochemistry. In addition to these courses which draw directly on my interest in geology and mineral resource development, I have recently team taught a course on contemporary Indian culture with colleagues Andrew Murray (Peace and Conflict Studies), Ruth Reed (Chemistry), and Klaus Kipphan (History). That course grew out our experiences on Fulbright-supported study tours to India that emerged from the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Juniata College, in which I actively participate. That trip provided much cultural and physiographic grist for my mill, some of which shows up in my courses in Mineralogy and Mineral Economics.

 

It is important to me that undergraduate students in geology begin to think of themselves as professionals as they work through our program. That means that students need increasingly to be able to ask research-style questions about the things they see and to apply critical data-gathering and reasoning skills. In my Petrology course students undertake two mini-research projects in which they have to carefully investigate a suite of related rocks and write a professional-style report detailing and interpreting their observations. In addition to this structured research experience, some students elect to pursue their own independent research projects. In recent years I have supervised student-initiated projects which considered a variety of geologic problems, including: petrographic investigations of a suite of hydrated ultramafic rocks from North Carolina, and of a suite of contact metamorphosed rocks from New Mexico, a longitudinal geochemical appraisal of Raystown Lake water, a preliminary investigation of fluid inclusions in Herkimer diamond-like quartz grains which occur in local shales, an x-ray study of preferred orientation of sheet silicates in shales, development of chlorite extraction procedures from local shales for petrologic analysis, and a consideration of natural buffers in the coal measures of SW Pennsylvania.

 

When not involved in work at Juniata College I wear a large number of other hats. I am strongly indebted to my wife and two daughters, who have shared in just about everything I do. We have home-schooled together, gardened together, attended cultural events together, made music in a contra dance band together, hiked and canoed together, made maple syrup together at Juniata College's Raystown Field Station and traveled widely together within North America and western Europe. We are all active in our local Quaker Meeting. In addition to family pursuits I serve on the Huntingdon County Planning Commission and the Board of the Huntingdon County Arts Council.

 

Larry and daughter, Johanna, at Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine, summer 98

 

Mineralogical Society of America

National Association of Geoscience Teachers

 

Geological Society of America