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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences

News

Technical Apprentice leads the way out of lockdown

(10 December 2020)

Samantha digitising the rock sample

Technical support has been critical to the safe reopening of the department and its preparations for both online and face-to-face teaching, and for lab-based research.

Samantha Thorpe, an Apprentice Technician, was one of the first to return to work when the Earth Sciences department opened at the end of June. She initially helped the department set up for a return to socially distanced face-to-face teaching. This has been done safely and successfully and is hugely appreciated by our undergraduate students.

As the department developed Covid-secure teaching protocols, it soon became apparent that handling rock specimens in a teaching environment was going to be difficult. Earth Sciences needed to do something different.

Digitising the rocks was the answer. Samantha photographed and scanned hundreds of rocks and entered them into a teaching data base. The scans and photos create a virtual 3D image of the rock sample, which can be turned and viewed from all angles, as if the rock were in your hand.

Combining these with thin section images from the virtual microscope generates an online learning environment experience which is as close to the real thing as possible. These resources have been used in three of our core, Level 1 modules in which our students learn the key elements of rock-based observations. Further, the digitised rocks were combined with drone images of rock outcrops, plus satellite images, to provide a multiscale experience for the Level 2 virtual Spain fieldtrip. It was good to see the trip acknowledged as an example of excellent online learning by our Vice Chancellor!

Samantha is pretty new to the department but her ability to develop new skills and the commitment she has shown under these trying times has been exceptional.