OGDEN — While most people appreciate any type of recognition for work well done, the admiration of respected peers is perhaps the most valued reward of all.
Adolph Yonkee, a professor of earth and environmental sciences going on 29 years at Weber State University, has recently received such an award.
The Geological Society of America, one of two major societies in the field of geosciences, named him a Society Fellow for his teaching, research and service in the geosciences, according to a university press release.
Yonkee researches how mountain chains were formed, leading research teams of colleagues and students on projects in Utah, Wyoming and Argentina.
Fieldwork, particularly with students, is what he most enjoys about his work.
“I don’t know if fun is always the word because there’s a certain amount of worry that goes into it. You want everything to go well and everyone to come back safe,” Yonkee said. “But that’s the most rewarding, I think, is seeing students learn in the field, and the most fun is being with small groups of students in the field.”
One of Yonkee’s projects, a collaborative effort with a colleague at Bryn Mawr College, traces how mountain belts have curved over time — which all mountain belts do. None are straight.
Certain minerals like hematite, a mineral that forms in sedimentary rocks common in mountain ranges, lock in Earth’s magnetic field as they grow and surrounding rock compacts.
“That hematite is like a compass needle that formed at that time,” Yonkee said. “If that compass needle now is not pointing north or south, but it’s pointing, say, northwest or it’s pointing northeast, then that means that mountain system has rotated counterclockwise or clockwise, and we can tell by how much.”
The research group determines this by extracting rock samples, carefully documenting how the sample was positioned in surrounding rock, and then measuring the rock sample’s electro-magnetic field in a lab at Bryn Mawr — a technique called paleomagnetism.
Students from Weber State, Bryn Mawr, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Utah State University and other institutions participate in each step of the research process, doing substantive work comparable to trained researchers in the field.
Some may wonder why the position of a mountain range millions of years is important to anyone living today.
Yonkee says that the way these curvatures form influences how the rock fractures, which is useful to know when drilling for oil or determining where groundwater flows.
His students are grateful for this in-depth research experience as well as Yonkee’s mentorship.
In a university press release, Yonkee’s former student Ben Marconi said Yonkee had a significant influence on his choice to pursue a doctorate in earth and environmental sciences instead of going to medical school.
“In my experiences across three universities as a student and a researcher, I have met very few individuals with the breadth of knowledge that Dr. Yonkee possesses, and none who dedicates so much time to teaching and mentoring undergraduates,” Marconi said. “He has made a major impact directly in students’ lives through his work as a professor, mentor and field trip leader.”