Spencer Gray ’17 splits his studies at College of the Atlantic between renewable energy and geo...Spencer Gray ’17 splits his studies at College of the Atlantic between renewable energy and geological studies. He has presented his geological research of Mount Desert Rock and Great Duck Island at multiple regional and national conferences.

A two-year project to map and analyze granite formations on two offshore Maine Islands came to fruition this spring for College of the Atlantic senior Spencer Gray when he had the opportunity to present his work to important scientific gatherings, including the Geological Society of Maine and the Northeast-Central Geological Society of America. At the latter meeting Gray was one of the only undergraduate chosen to give a talk.

Gray’s work has involved mapping, dating, and analyzing the geochemical makeup of the granite formations on Great Duck and Mount Desert Rock islands, both of which are the home to COA field research stations. While both islands have been the site of many ecological studies, neither had been the focus of a detailed geological study. Throughout the last two and a half years, Gray produced the first ever high-resolution digital surface model of Mount Desert Rock using drone technology. He also collected rock samples from each island in order to figure out if they were geochemically similar to other nearby granites.

College of the Atlantic offers ample opportunities for students to apply their studies through <a href="/academics/research-creative-work/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">field research</a> or hands-on projects.College of the Atlantic offers ample opportunities for students to apply their studies through field research or hands-on projects.“Spencer’s positive attitude, curiosity, problem solving strategies, and excitement about figuring out how things work make him an exceptional student researcher,” said College of the Atlantic Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Chair in Earth Systems and GeoSciences Dr. Sarah Hall. “He has been dedicated to the work showing impressive patience, time management and critical thinking skills. I’m very impressed with his work.”

Gray began the project in conjunction with Hall during the summer of 2015 and continued in 2016 supported by the Maine Space Grant Consortium and Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Chair Fund. A recent $1,500 grant from the Stephen Pollock Undergraduate Research Program will allow him to continue working on his project during the summer of 2017.

Gray’s interests at COA have been split between renewable energy and earth sciences. While pursuing both allows him to develop a well-rounded understanding of environmental issues, the split has also been a challenge, he said.

College of the Atlantic student Spencer Gray ’17.College of the Atlantic student Spencer Gray ’17. Credit: Dr. Sarah Hall“The most challenging aspect of being a student researcher was balancing the fact that I’m doing this because of personal interest, and a desire to learn, and not necessarily for credit. Although I’ve found that my school work and this project help and influence each other, finding continuity between the different aspects of this independent non-school project is sometimes hard,” Gray said. “On the other hand, I can shape it in any direction I want precisely because it’s not for credit, which is very exciting.”

Aided by Dr. Hall, Dr. David Bailey, Chair and Professor of Geosciences at Hamilton College, and Dr. Melanie Michalak, faculty at Humboldt State University’s Department of Geology, Gray determined both the age and the geochemical signature of rocks from both islands. He presented this data—the first ever recorded dates from the rocks of these islands—in poster format during the fall Acadia National Park Science Symposium at Schoodic Institute, the Northeast-Central Geological Society of America (NE-C GSA) meeting in Pittsburgh, and most recently, the Geological Society of Maine student meeting at Bates College, where he received an honorable mention for one of the best undergraduate presentations.

Spencer Gray ’17 is co-author of this poster presenting data on the geochemistry and geochrono...Spencer Gray ’17 is co-author of this poster presenting data on the geochemistry and geochronology of Great Duck Island and Mount Desert Rock—which both house College of the Atlantic offshore research stations.

“I think regardless of what you do—present a poster, give a talk, or just observe—going to a geological conference is fantastic because it really gives you a broad picture of what’s going on in this field and connects geology beyond the realm of your particular locale,” Gray said. “Each time I’ve presented, I’ve gotten resources from people that helped me take my project to the next step or opened up a whole new possibility when I was feeling stuck. My experiences in conferences have been fantastic.”

This summer, Gray will continue to process rock samples and begin writing up his findings. He plans to finish the project and submit it for publication and review by fall. After graduating, Spencer plans to pursue a job in the renewable energy industry and continue his involvement in geology—even if it’s simply recreational.