Facilities & Resources

X-ray Diffractometer Laboratory

Want to distinguish cement powder from explosives? Want to “see” the 3-D shape of a protein or polymer? Want to measure nanoscale holes in a molecular filter? How can you do this? The answer is X-ray diffraction

How does an X-ray diffractometer work?

  • It bombards samples with high intensity X-ray beams, which enter the material and “diffract” (reflect off planes of atoms).
  • The angle and intensity of the reflections are controlled by the size and 3-D arrangement of the atoms, so the diffractometer can “see” and fingerprint any substance’s unique nanoscale crystalline structure.

What substances can an X-ray diffractometer identify?

  • Explosives, Pharmaceuticals, Proteins, Ceramics, Superconductors, Polymers, Metals, Alloys, Pigments, Minerals, Catalysts, Corrosion residues, Cements, Clays, and many more...

    Our lab is equipped with a Siemens D5000 diffractometer. Students and faculty from Forestry and Geology, and also those from Chemistry and from Physics.

    Our diffractometer is used for teaching and research — in regular classroom teaching and also for student and faculty research. Students get hands-on experience with the diffractometer. Diffractometers are essential and standard equipment for forensic labs, ceramic companies, drug companies, petroleum companies, cement companies, chemical companies, and more.

 Mineralogy Collection

  • Samples from every continent and the ocean floor
  • 2000+ specimens
  • Excellent crystals for hands-on study
  • One of the best collections for geology student use anywhere in the U.S.
  • Much of it a gift from world-renowned mineral collector Vertrees Young
  • Gold from Georgia’s Dahlonega mines
  • Diamonds from Russia’s Mir Kimberlite Pipe
  • Tourmalines from San Diego’s Pala Pegmatite
  • And much more !

Rocks from every continent on Earth can be found in Sewanee’s Vertrees Young Mineral Collection at Snowden Hall. Drawer after drawer of crystals and rock samples have been organized into one of the best hands-on teaching collections for Geology in the United States. It all began when renowned mineral collector Vertrees Young donated a portion of his collection to the University including Gold from Dahlonega Georgia, Diamonds from Russia’s Mir Kimberlite Pipe and Tourmalines from the San Diego Pala Pegmatite - and that’s just the beginning. From desert to ocean floor, Snowden Hall carries a representative fragment from almost every kind of place on Earth.

Research Projects

The following list includes a sample of some of the research conducted by Snowden Faculty and Students. More information is available on the faculty web pages.

Amber Collection: Dr. Martin Knoll’s study of Sewanee's Amber Collection.

Ecology and hydrology of small, upland watersheds: Dr. Karen Kuers, Dr. Martin Knoll

Alteration and evolution of the Sierra Gorda porphyry copper deposit, Chile: Dr. Steve Shaver

Forest management impacts on forest soils of the Cumberland Plateau, Brazil, and Canada: Dr. Ken Smith

Tectonics and seismography of the Cumberland Plateau: Dr. Bran Potter

Forest management and soils in New Zealand: Dr. Scott Torreano

Petrology, palynology, and geochemistry of the Bon Air coal, Tennessee: Dr. Steve Shaver

Urban impacts on trees and stream water quality: Dr. Karen Kuers

Student Published Papers: Here are just some of the published research projects completed by students.

Student Research Papers 

Eastridge, E., Neas, S., and M. A. Knoll, 2008, Impact of Man-Made Reservoirs on Stream Water Quality on the Southern Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee: A Preliminary Report: Geol. Soc. America National Meeting and Abstracts with Programs, v. 40, p. 179.

Gannaway, E., Knoll, M. A., and M. C. Knoll, 2007, Water quality studies of a shallow aquifer on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia: Geol. Soc. America National Meeting and Abstracts with Programs, v. 39, p. 323.

Voitier, James O., Garella, A. A., and M. A. Knoll, 2007, Exurban lakes on the southern Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee – Part 1: lake history and seasonal overturn: Geol. Soc. America 2007 Southeastern Section Meeting and Abstracts with Programs, v. 39, p. 19.

Knoll, M. A., Modi, A. L., and J. R. Candlish, 2005, Occurrence and distribution of arsenic in the hydrologic system of the southern Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee: a preliminary report: Geol. Soc. America 2005 National Meeting and Abstracts with Programs, v. 37, p. 376.

Lee, P. E., Potter, D. B., and M. A. Knoll, 2005, The Mississippian-Pennsylvanian disconformity at Greeter Falls, Grundy County, Tennessee: Geol. Soc. America 2005 Southeastern Section Meeting and Abstracts with Programs, v. 37, p. 45.

Steinhauer, E. S. and M. A. Knoll, 2004, Attenuation of a hydrocarbon contaminant plume on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee: Geol. Soc. America 2004 National Meeting and Abstracts with Programs, v. 36, p. 82.

Ingram, G. P. and M.A. Knoll, 1997, Geologic control on the occurrence of perennial springs in the vicinity of Sewanee, Tennessee, southern Cumberland Plateau: Geol. Soc. America 1997 Southeastern Section. Meeting and Abstracts with Programs, v. 29, p. 25.

Current Students

What do they do all day?

Snowden's students work hard. But since so much study in Forestry and Geology requires time outside, afternoon lab classes can usually be found roaming the Domain. Indoor lab facilities are substantial. Whether for teaching or Student Research, people working in Snowden have impressive access to equipment and space for their work. Professors might assign map analysis problems, forest statistics, tree identification, or petrographic illustration homework. The Department has everything you need to get it done.

Students observing Rock

The Land

The Domain is home to a diverse array of tree species that provide multiple ecological benefits. Historically, we have used the Domain as not only a teaching laboratory and recreation facility, but also as a source of raw materials (wood, stone, coal, water, forage, meat) for the University. Students at Sewanee have ample opportunities to not only study the effects of past land uses on our forest, but to implement small-scale management projects (using archeological preservation, insect control, watershed management, fire, exotic removal) and to examine the effects of these actions.


As one moves from the top of the plateau into our coves, the interconnection among the geologic formations, soils, water movement, and the vegetation is vital to understand. An understanding of forestry and geology combined with a background in the other natural sciences is important for grasping the underlying relationships that make our natural world function.

The Rocks

Sandstone, shale, dolomite, limestone, coal, quartz pebble conglomerate - our forest is built upon rock. The stack of 300 million year-old stone ramps from valley floor to the gates of campus. Like the towers and walls of Sewanee, the rock bluffs that surround our home on the Plateau show age and change. Tree fossils run between old slanting sand ripples from rivers long gone. The vast network of expanding caves beneath our feet always offer a chance for further exploration. Our students are not just told about the geologic processes that shape the planet - they are shown the details in the field.

Students on Landscape

The Trees

Oak, hickory, basswood, maple, walnut, dogwood, pine, sassafras – go in any direction from our front door and you will encounter trees. Upland hardwoods,cove forests, forested parks, streams, and trails - Snowden is surrounded by a living lab. Our students learn about the forest while walking and studying among the trees.

The Trees on the Domain