Eric Sandvol

Friday, November 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:37 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

While many people find gemstones beautiful and minerals useful, Eric Sandvol, an assistant professor of geology at MU, has a special appreciation for one in particular.

“Without olivine, I wouldn’t have had a Ph.D. thesis,” Sandvol said.

Thanks to this mineral, whose gemstone counterpart is called peridot and whose unique properties are used by seismologists to study the deformation of earth’s mantle, Sandvol got his doctorate from New Mexico State University-Las Cruces.

He went on to become a researcher at Cornell University. MU is his first experience as a teacher.

“I was a real novice when I came here and started teaching,” Sandvol said. “But it’s been a good experience.”

Sandvol teaches a graduate course in continental tectonics and an undergraduate honors course called “Earthquakes.” About the latter class, he said most people don’t realize how delicate a subject earthquakes are among geologists.

“A former advisor got into trouble because a reporter misunderstood him and had him predicting an earthquake,” Sandvol said. “The best we can do in earthquakes is essentially do what meteorologists do with the weather, say there is a thirty percent chance, for example. And we’re not even as good as the meteorologists are.”

From Turkey to Tibet, Sandvol’s research took him all over the world. Field work, while grueling at times, has its perks, he said. “It’s one of the greatest parts of being a seismologist.”

While Sandvol has seen some impressive sights, he counts his first trip to the Karakoram mountains in Pakistan as one of the most incredible.

“Photographs don’t do them justice,” he said. “It’s remarkable how straight up and down these mountains are. It makes the Rockies look like foothills.”

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