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Tour of Guyot Hall on the agenda of PPPL Young Women’s Conference


Tour of Guyot Hall, PPPL Women's Conference

Post-doc Mélanie Barboni and grad student Brehnin Keller introduce the young women to the 12 feet high and 25 feet long Antrodemus (Allosaurus) dinosaur in the main hall. The tour continues to the geochronology laboratory setting where everyone is giving the opportunity to look at zircon grains under the microscope. Photos by Eva Groves.


On Friday, March 22, 2013, Post-doc Mélanie Barboni and Grad student Brenhin Keller, were given the opportunity to interact with the community by providing a departmental tour hosted by the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL). The tour was part of the “The Young Women’s Conference in Science, Mathematics, Technology, and Engineering.”  Its purpose is to expose middle school and high school aged girls (in 7th though 10th grades) to the wide breadth of careers available to them in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  PPPL’s focus is on introducing the students to prominent female scientists and engineers in a variety of formats including keynote addresses, small-group speaker presentations, hands-on activities, and tours of laboratories.

Barboni and Keller were delighted for this opportunity to show aspiring young minds what holds their scientific interests.  During the tour, Barboni, who is a Swiss National Science Foundation Fellow, spoke to the women in the tour about the excitement and some of the challenges she faces as a woman studying the sciences:

“I love doing research, the constant challenge of it, and the thrill of getting results that leads to new theories. The Earth is such an amazing planet. When you study it, nothing can be taken for granted; everything needs to be constantly rethought.  It is so exciting!  I hope we were able to communicate a bit of our enthusiasm to you and triggered some future interest to join research in Geosciences.  This tour with a focus on young women holds significance for me, as I am a woman in Science.  I remember that during my Ph.D. in Switzerland, a professor actually said to me “women have nothing to do in Geosciences.”  I do hope that some of you taking this tour will consider to prove him wrong in the future!”

The tour started with an introduction to the Antrodemus (Allosaurus) dinosaur that measures 12 feet high and 25 feet long in the center of Guyot Hall.  It is a popular attraction for all first-time visitors because of the dinosaur’s beautifully displayed centric position in the hall. Arnold, as it is endearingly called, has been standing in its original position since coming to the University in 1961[1]. Next on the agenda were the many display cases that literally line the halls with fossils, minerals, rocks, and precious gems from the original museum once located at Guyot Hall. At the time of its opening, it housed Princeton University’s Biology and Geology departments, as well as the Natural History Museum.  Guyot Hall was named for Princeton’s first professor of geology and geography, Arnold Guyot (1854-1884).  The mother of Guyot’s 1879 undergrad student, Cleveland H. Dodge, funded the building for the university[2].  The original halls were built in 1909 and are considered to be in the classic Tudor Gothic style of architectural. It is an impressive building to visit for anyone aspiring to be a scientist.  Its exterior is adorned with some 200 gargoyle-like carvings representing a range of the extinct (GEO side) and living organisms (EEB side) studied within its halls.

A highlight of the tour was to take the women to Geosciences geochronology laboratory where Barboni and Keller actually work. This world-class facility is equipped to date the Earth’s oldest rocks. Geosciences’ Professor Blair Schoene proposed the lab when he joined the faculty in June 2009, and has since overseen its continued operations[3].  The project brought together a team of engineers, architects, and contractors to build the 1300 square foot lab on the second floor of Guyot, in what was previously a large map room and before that the undergraduate mineralogy and petrology classroom.

Barboni explained to the women that her research is focused on understanding how magma is formed and stored in the Earth using high-precision geochronology, a dating technique that is capable of measuring the ages of materials as young as a few hundred thousand years or as old as the solar system.  This is critical to establish precise rate of magma transport and storage in the Earth crust in order to evaluate volcanic eruptions and to predict volcanic hazards.  Quite important research considering how much destruction one eruption can cause.

This year the conference hosted 365 young women from the NJ/PA area schools.  Usually, the lab tours are one of the highlights of the students’ experiences at the conference—for many, it is the first time seeing “real scientific research” performed and they are always enthusiastic about interacting with women scientists whom they can look up to. For more information contact Program Leader Aliya Merali, PPPL,, Web:

After the tour, Keller commented on what it was like to host these young students:

“It's always great to get a chance to talk about research with students like these young women and hopefully encourage their excitement about science.  Their curiosity and enthusiasm were great to see, and I hope visiting our lab might have encouraged some of them to consider careers as geologists.”

[1] Horn, Elizabeth. “The Princeton Antrodemus/Allosaurus.” Princeton Environmental Institute, 21 July. 2011. Web. 15 April. 2013. ‹›.

[2] Smilodon, Princeton Geosciences Newsletter. “Guyot Hall at One Hundred.” Spring 2009 Vol. 50 No. 1. Web. 15 April. 2013. ‹›.

[3] Smilodon, Princeton Geosciences Newsletter. “Princeton Geosciences Department Opens New Geochronology Laboratory.” Spring 2012 Vol. 53 No. 1. Web. 18 April. 2013. <>