Geological Sciences

Geological Sciences is the study of the earth: its origin and evolution, its composition, its structure, and its constantly changing character. Geologists study the chemical and physical properties of earth materials including minerals, rocks, fluids, and gases. They study the structure of the mobile outer shell of planet Earth, how ocean floors form and are destroyed, and how supercontinents assemble, fragment, and disperse. The history of the Earth includes the history of life from its first occurrence as single celled organisms during the Archean 4 to 2.5 billion years ago to the effects of present inhabitants, especially humans.

Many geologists are deeply involved with the consequences of human-related environmental problems, such as global warming, and natural hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and floods. At SDSU, the Department of Geological Sciences seeks to address these issues through studies in the laboratory, computer modeling, and through direct observations in the field. Faculty research covers the globe from as far as away as New Zealand to the geologically spectacular setting right here in California.

Students who are curious about planet Earth and its history, and who are challenged by problems that involve a broad knowledge of the Earth, should consider a major in geological sciences. Geological Sciences combine many important aspects of society, science, and mathematics – it is the study of the world we inhabit.

Program Overview

The department offers a major in geological sciences with a Bachelor of Science degree in applied arts and sciences. Students entering this program will choose one of the following emphases, depending on their specific interests: general geology, engineering geology, geochemistry, geophysics, hydrogeology, marine geology or paleontology. Each emphasis shares many course requirements in common, but has unique individual requirements appropriate to the particular discipline. Requirements for all emphases are listed in the General Catalog. A beginning student uncertain of future interests might best choose the general geology option.

Seven options are offered within the framework of the Bachelor of Science degree. These options are not degrees themselves, but are advising schedules that allow the students to select the courses best suited to a particular subdiscipline. There is a planned overlap in all options so that the basic courses for a classical education in geology are taken by all students regardless of the option selected. The options in general geology and hydrology are the most popular. Most of our entering majors do not have firm career goals and use the general geology option to guide them in planning their undergraduate career. It allows them considerable latitude in selecting courses and learning about all of the subdisciplines within the geological sciences.


Special Features

  • Facilities include laboratories, open to students, with major facilities in X-ray diffraction and fluorescence, geochronology, isotope geology, geophysics (including gravity, magnetics, magnetotellurics, and seismology), geochemistry, soils, hydrology, sedimentology, biomechanics, morphometrics, computing, and microscopy, as well as equipment for fieldwork, and for rock and specimen preparation.
  • The Edwin C. Allison Center for Historical Science under the Department of Geological Sciences maintains a collection of fossils including vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants.
  • Isotope Instrumentation Laboratory under the Department of Geological Sciences operates three mass spectrometers, two Nu Plasma multi-collector plasma ionization mass spectrometers, models 1700 and HR, and a Micromass Sector 54 thermal ionization mass spectrometer. The Nu 1700 is one of two large radius plasma ionization mass spectrometers in existence, and the only one located within the United States.
  • The KECK Clean Room is a 2,000-square-foot modern laboratory complex considered to be one of the best equipped facilities worldwide. The laboratory is equipped for ultra-pure reagent preparation, micro-analytical procedures for separation of elements for radiogenic and tracer applications and determination of trace element abundances by isotope dilution. Supporting facilities include an optical petrology laboratory, rock preparation laboratory, and mineral separation facilities.
  • The Immersive Visualization Center allows display and analysis of large data sets on a 3.2 megapixel curved display screen from Panoram Technologies (18 feet across). Powered by an SGI computer, the visualization center is unique in being optically connected via fiber optic services provided by Cox Communications, with another Panoram visualization center at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), through networking facilities at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Optical transport equipment by TeraBurst Networks connects the two visualization centers at about 16 times the general peak use of the entire Internet by SDSU at any one time, which allows the transmission of 3-D stereoscopic images between facilities. Applications in crisis management, oil exploration and development, remote sensing-GIS, manufacturing, life sciences, security, performing arts and sports are being run on the system.

Career Opportunities

Many geological scientists are employed to find ways to clean up the environment and keep it safe. Others will focus on exploration for valuable minerals (such as copper and gold), energy sources (such as coal, oil, and natural gas), or drinking water supplies. The employment outlook is favorable, particularly with engineering and toxic waste disposal firms, as public school teachers, and with energy companies.

A geology graduate may be employed as one of the following professionals: hydrologist, geophysicist, geochemist, environmental scientist, oceanographer, teacher, research technician, geological surveyor, paleontologist, energy and resource explorer, and resource planner.

Geologists are primarily employed by private corporations, including environmental, engineering, petroleum, mining, construction, and quarry companies; government agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Bureau of Mines, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the California Department of Conservation, and regional planning offices; and students with graduate degrees are sought for teaching positions in secondary schools, community colleges and universities.

To further explore career options in this field, visit the Career Services Web site for more information.

General Catalog

You can view more complete information regarding the Geological Sciences program in the General Catalog. All students are responsible for reading and knowing the information pertinent to their areas of study available in the General Catalog. It contains requirements for all academic majors, course descriptions, policies, and regulations governing progress at the university. Catalogs are distributed at all New Student Orientation programs. To order a General Catalog, call (619) 594-7535.