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Research dates prehistoric split

By Tessa Byrns
On October 10, 2011

A UNC assistant professor of geology has traveled across the globe in an effort to discover the history of the prehistoric world. 

Graham Baird, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Northern Colorado, has been studying the Caledonides Mountain Range in Sweden since 2003. The range is believed to have been connected to the Appalachian Mountains 300 million years ago as part of the supercontinent Pangaea.

Through studying the Caledonides, Baird hopes to determine when Rodinia, the supercontinent that appeared prior to Pangaea, broke apart.

In order to determine when the supercontinent broke apart, Baird is working on carbon dating the rocks of the region.

Sean Figg, a graduate student and Baird's research assistant, said the process of dating rocks is actually a series of several processes.

"It goes through the process of SHRIMP first," Figg said. "SHRIMP stands for Sensitive High Resolution Ion Microprobe. Basically, it is a laser that makes a small pit in the rock to be analyzed and that determines the age of the rock."

Before they could SHRIMP the rocks, Baird said they had to complete the initial steps of research.

"First, we had our field work that we needed to do, which is taking samples and figuring out what we were doing," Baird said. "Then, next is the lab analysis. We sent our samples to UNC as well as various labs. Then those labs will date rock and the minerals in the rocks."

Baird said he is continuing his research but the extent to which he will pursue it depends on the results.

"We have well-formed questions," Baird said. "It depends on the funding we get, but never say never."

Baird and Figg said they are hoping their research will not only point to what happened before there were humans but also improve their chances of receiving more funding in the future.

Baird is currently presenting his research at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting in Minnesota with Steve Anderson, a UNC professor of earth sciences and the director of the Mathematics and Science Teaching Institute. Anderson will speak about what he has learned from his 17-year career mentoring students.


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