Founded in 1926, the Department of Geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines is recognized and respected around the world for its programs in applied geophysical research and education. With 20 active faculty and an average class size of 15, students receive individualized attention in a close-knit department. Given the interdisciplinary nature of geophysics, the undergraduate curriculum requires students to become thoroughly familiar with geological, mathematical, and physical theories in addition to the various geophysical methodologies. The mission of the geophysical engineering program is to educate undergraduates in the application of geophysics to help meet global needs for energy, water, food, minerals, and the mitigation of natural hazards by exploring and illuminating the dynamic processes of the earth, oceans, atmosphere and solar system.
Geophysics entails the study and exploration of the earth’s interior through physical measurements collected at the earth’s surface, in boreholes, from aircraft, and from satellites. Using a combination of mathematics, physics, geology, chemistry, hydrology, and computer science, a geophysicist analyzes these measurements to infer properties and processes within the earth’s complex interior. Non-invasive imaging beneath the surface of earth and other planets by geophysicists is analogous to non-invasive imaging of the interior of the human body by medical specialists.
The earth supplies all material needed by our society, serves as the repository of used products, and provides a home to all its inhabitants. Geophysics and geophysical engineering have important roles to play in the solution of challenging problems facing the inhabitants of this planet, such as providing fresh water, food, and energy for earth’s growing population, evaluating sites for underground construction and containment of hazardous waste, monitoring non-invasively the aging infrastructures of developed nations, mitigating the threat of geohazards (earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, avalanches) to populated areas, contributing to homeland security (including detection and removal of unexploded ordnance and land mines), evaluating changes in climate and managing humankind’s response to them, and exploring other planets.
Energy companies and mining firms employ geophysicists to explore for hidden resources around the world. Engineering firms hire geophysical engineers to assess the earth’s near-surface properties when sites are chosen for large construction projects and waste-management operations. Environmental organizations use geophysics to conduct groundwater surveys and to track the flow of contaminants. On the global scales, geophysicists employed by universities and government agencies (such as the United States Geological Survey, NASA, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) try to understand such earth processes as heat flow; gravitational, magnetic, electric, thermal, and stress fields within the earth’s interior. For the past decade, 100% of CSM’s geophysics graduates have found employment in their chosen field, with about 20% choosing to pursue graduate studies. The undergraduate program in the Department of Geophysics leads to a Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree in Geophysical Engineering. The BS Degree in Geophysical Engineering is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), www.abet.org. Students who earn this degree and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam become designated as an “Engineer in Training”, the first step toward licensure as a Professional Engineer.
Geophysical Engineering Curriculum
Geophysics is an applied and interdisciplinary science, hence students must have a strong foundation in physics, mathematics, geology and computer sciences. Superimposed on this foundation is a comprehensive body of courses on the theory and practice of geophysical methods. As geophysics and geophysical engineering involve the study and exploration of the entire earth, our graduates have great opportunities to work anywhere on, and even off, the planet. Therefore, emphasis is placed on electives in the humanities, which give students an understanding of international issues and different cultures. To satisfy all these requirements, every student who obtains a Bachelor’s Degree in Geophysical Engineering at Mines must complete the courses in the Mines Core Course Sequence plus the requirements set out in the Mines Catalog.
Geophysics undergraduates may apply for up to six credits of an independent study experience, which takes their studies beyond the regularly offered Department curriculum. Students should consult the Mines Catalog, and their academic advisors, for details and requirements. Proposals for independent study course credit must be received in the Department office by the end of the first week of the semester in which they intend to enroll. The course proposal should fit this format: Independent Study Format.
Professional Engineering Registration
A professional career in geophysical engineering or geophysics will generally include many different employment opportunities. Graduates who work in environmental, geotechnical, groundwater, and other similar areas of application will have jobs with a strong engineering component, for which professional registration will be an important consideration.
Seniors should watch for an announcement early in their Fall semester regarding review sessions offered on campus to prepare them for the Engineer-in-Training / Fundamentals of Engineering (EIT/FE) exam. Upon earning a BS Degree in Geophysical Engineering and successfully completing the EIT/FE exam, a Mines graduate has a good start toward professional registration as an engineer.
Minor in Geophysical Engineering
Geophysics plays in important role in many aspects of civil engineering, mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering and electrical engineering, as well as mathematics, physics, geology, chemistry, hydrology, and computer science. Given the natural connections between these various fields and geophysics, it may be of interest for students in other majors to consider choosing to minor in geophysics or to choose geophysics as an area of specialization. The core of courses taken to satisfy the minor requirement must include a subset of the following:
- GPGN101, Geophysics & Society
- GPGN228, Introduction to Rock Physics
- GPGN328, Physics of the Earth I
- GPGN329, Physics of the Earth II
- GPGN411, Gravity & Magnetic Methods
- GPGN461, Seismic Data Processing
- GPGN420, Electrical & Electromagnetic Methods
- GPGN419, Well Logging
The remaining hours can be satisfied by a combination of other geophysics courses, as well as courses in geology, mathematics, and computer science, depending on the student’s major. Students must consult with the Department of Geophysics to establish an approved sequence of courses approved before embarking on a minor program.
Geophysics Combined Degree Program
The Department of Geophysics combined program allows undergraduates in any Mines option to work on a Master of Science degree in Geophysics or Geophysical Engineering while completing the requirements for the Bachelor of Science program. The combined program can take as little as one year beyond the Bachelor of Science degree.
Students are encouraged to apply for admission as early as the Spring semester of their Junior year. Upon admission to the graduate program, they are assigned graduate advisors to help select graduate courses and plan for internships, both of which then are reviewed and approved by the Master’s committees. Graduate courses can be taken during the senior year and beyond.
In addition to course work, combined-program students may carry out Master’s-level thesis research in fields related to their career goals. Students are strongly encouraged to plan projects during their Senior Design experience that can be expanded to a Master of Science thesis.
As with many graduate students in Geophysics, students in the combined program often continue their research projects while working as graduate interns for leading companies or government agencies in fields such as resources (oil, minerals, groundwater), pollution and hazardous waste, geologic hazards, civil engineering, archeology, etc. In some cases, financial support for the student is made available their graduate course work, either by an employer or by the Department. Upon completion of all course work and research, candidates will write, submit, and defend a Master of Science thesis. The Master of Science degree is awarded after each candidate has successfully completed all requirements for the graduate program.
The program leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Geophysical Engineering is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, http://www.abet.org.
The enrollment and graduation data for the Geophysical Engineering program and other Mines programs can be found on the homepage of the Mines Office of Institutional Research.
ABET Program Educational Objectives
The Geophysical Engineering Program has five (5) program educational objectives that are intended to characterize our graduates when they are 3-5 years post graduation:
- Program Objective 1. Graduates will be competent geophysical engineers who are capable of independent and innovative problem solving.
- Program Objective 2: Graduates can design and execute experiments effectively with appropriate treatment of the resulting data.
- Program Objective 3: Graduates will be competent in scientific computing.
- Program Objective 4: Graduates will be effective communicators, both orally and in writing.
- Program Objective 5: Graduates will exhibit good team skills, be able to lead and to follow effectively.
ABET Student Outcomes
ABET student outcomes are attributes of Geophysical Engineering students that are developed and measured in the Geophysical Engineering curriculum. Achieving these outcomes places a student on a successful trajectory toward exhibiting the characteristics represented by the program objectives.
From ABET Criterion 3:
- An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering.
- An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data.
- An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health, safety, manufacturability, and sustainability.
- An ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.
- An ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems.
- An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.
- An ability to communicate effectively.
- The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.
- A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning.
- Knowledge of contemporary issues.
- An ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.
- Expanded perspective of applied geophysics as a result of participating in employment or research.
- An ability to analyze, quantitatively, the errors, limitations, and uncertainties in data.