Fancy her today’s Indiana Jones.
Armed with computer skills instead of a whip, Eugene McDermott Scholars Program alumna and geosciences graduate student Emily Hinz mixes in just a dash of archaeology to flavor her thesis and master’s degree in geophysics.
And while she may not be looking for the holy grail, she is using geological surveys to study the earth’s physical properties and identify artifacts.
“Archaeology is really just one specific application of near-surface geophysics,” Emily said.
Emily is a research assistant to Professor John Ferguson, head of the Department of Geosciences. She is using data gathered during the Summer of Applied Geophysical Experience (SAGE) field camp – a consortium of academic geophysicists and the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory – to support her thesis. Ferguson is a founder of the field camp and also advises Emily on her thesis.
“All of the geophysical analysis will hopefully lead to a few papers, in particular, on near-surface refraction and its application to archaeology. This is what my thesis will be on,” she said.
Emily describes the SAGE data, saying there were two main field sites: a shallow environmental or archaeological site consisting of man-made targets, such as pottery shards and other discarded items, and a deeper geologic site to study geological layers and features associated with the Rio Grande rift system in New Mexico.
“All of the students who attended field camp over the past five years helped to collect the data for me. SAGE exposed me to all of the various aspects and niches of geophysics – not only the theoretical and mathematical basis of geophysical techniques, but then we got to go out into the field and apply them,” Emily said.
Following Big Brother
Born in Ottawa, Canada, and currently living in west Plano, Emily says that she followed her older brother, Michael, to The University of Texas at Dallas because “he was so happy with UTD and the education and opportunities he had while at the university that I decided to go here, too.”
Picking a degree was a different matter. “I didn’t know immediately what degree to go into. I have always been drawn to environmental sciences and since UTD didn’t have that department any longer, I went for a similar earth-related field, geosciences,” she said.
For her undergraduate degree, Emily double majored in geosciences and computer science. Geosciences is generally defined as the study of the Earth’s four spheres – the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere.
Emily continued, “The computer science degree has given me the tools to know what is going on in the computer so when a program doesn’t work or the computer isn’t doing what I expect, I can solve the problem logically. My programming knowledge also allows me to streamline and otherwise expand people’s programs and add features to them that help my research. Without programming knowledge, I’d be stuck with program limitations!” she said triumphantly.
Emily is a member of the 2001 inaugural class of McDermott scholars, and she describes her experience as “wonderful.”
“The program was really the catalyst that got me into my area of archaeological geophysics,” she said. “McDermotts get to study abroad for a semester, and I decided that I would like to go to Scotland and learn about archaeological geophysics. The field is more developed and used in Europe because: 1.) they have a lot of layers of civilization and 2.) soil conditions, combined with the archaeology targets, are more conducive to using geophysics.”
In Scotland, “I spent most of my time at a desk researching imaging data filtering techniques for magnetic and resistivity data that they had. My main goal was to get as much field and interpretation experience with actual archaeologists as I could. I helped at a ruined homestead site in Argyll, a Roman fort on the Antonine Wall outside of Glasgow, and a ring-mound site in a person's backyard in the countryside, and a graveyard in Troon,” she said.
Remote Sensing and Other Lab Work
Emily also completed an internship in the Geographic Information Systems lab at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Remote sensing, the measurement or acquisition of information on an object or phenomenon using a recording device that is not in physical or intimate contact with the object, is also within Emily’s realm of experiences.
“I did research in the Remote Sensing Lab under Professor [Robert] Stern during my undergraduate degree. I have used the Remote Sensing Lab’s software to filter and analyze some data by treating my geophysical data as if it were from a satellite.
“The filtering principals are the same no matter what the data source. I would like to take a laser gun and map one of my sites. We have problems sometimes trying to line up our data with the archaeologist’s hand-drawn sketches,” she said.
With Professor Stern, she studied the Kubbaniya Nile in Egypt – a pre-Nile drainage that runs east to west instead of the Nile’s north to south route.
“Before the Nile as we know it flowed through Egypt, the drainage system was much different. In earlier times, Egypt was also wetter so that there was more drainage in the area. The drainages in the area I was looking at around Kom Ombo, Egypt, flowed from the Red Sea Hills to the west and bending northward about where the Nile currently is.
“The Nile cut through and truncated all of the drainages reversing the flow in the channels to the west of the Nile so that they flowed to the east and toward the Nile. The east channels were now tributaries of the Nile as well.
“The importance of these old channels is that there could potentially be ground water – usually very old water — in their channel areas. The water will tend to drain in the ground along these old channel paths. Egypt is always looking for more sources of water other than the Nile,” she said.
Back to the Future
Emily said she plans to get her master's degree by spring 2007.
Emily said she hopes to work for “an environmental consulting firm, or a local government, but it’s really a niche market, especially in Dallas. I think I’d eventually like to become an independent consultant.”
She recommends the geosciences program at UTD "because it’s a really small department, and you really get to know all the professors and they get to know you. You also get to see the same students in your classes, and you get to learn all sorts of things about them on the field trips. By the time you’re a senior, you really know everyone in your classes. The small program also means that there are a lot of research and trip opportunities for students who want them no matter what year they are in.”
- Updated: May 18, 2006