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About the Department

The Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences works closely with our students in one of the largest geoscience departments in the southeast.  Our students are engaged in geological disciplines throughout their tenure at the College of Charleston through undergraduate research projects, unique travel courses, and through our many collaborative projects with private companies and local, state, and federal agencies.  Our program has a uniquely family-like atmosphere that doesn't terminate upon graduation.  Many alumni stay in touch through our alumni newsletter and interact with current students through Senior Seminar and in the field.

Get to Know our Faculty:

Dr. Manning

Dr. Manning and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Walking with Dinosaurs

Dr. Phil Manning


Q: What led you to become a geologist?

A: I’m not really a geologist…the geology I know and love today was acquired via a process of osmosis, given I learnt about the rock record as I leant more on my beloved fossils entombed in the said record. Paleontology or I prefer Paleobiology, is seamlessly integrated with geology, but also with biology, physics, chemistry, math…to name a few. It was the interdisciplinary nature of Paleobiology that caught my attention and has maintained it for over 40 years.

What careers in geology have you had?

My work has been based mostly in either museums of academic (University) environments, but these have both led to extensive work with the public engagement of science (lots of television and filming of documentaries around the world).

Q: What kind of research do you do?

A: All my research is aimed at discovering new information on the evolution of life on Earth. My research is both broad and interdisciplinary with active research topics including: biomechanics, geochemistry and elemental analysis (particularly specializing in synchrotron-based imaging techniques), application of LiDAR-based imaging to both landscape and skeletal modelling, high-performance computing work, mechanical analysis of biomaterials (both extant and extinct), finite element analysis and imaging. My research team and I have worked extensively in the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota and Montana, but our field program also includes sites in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Q: How does your work impact the community?

A: The impact of my team’s research is felt locally, nationally and internationally with distinct industrial, economic and societal benefits in three major areas:

A purely economic impact results from the fact that our creative use of imaging techniques has inspired sales activity for UK and US-based manufacturers of FTIR instruments as researchers in other sectors become aware of what modern instruments can achieve. A second impact is highlighted by the fact that research funding bodies have chosen to use our prior fossil imaging work as an impact case study, given our research has improved our predictive capability in geochemical systems that involve chemical immobilization and organic compound degradation. Such systems include land based radioactive waste disposal and hydrocarbon exploitation.

The second area of impact has significantly improved the model of how sediments in specific environments react over geological time. We have exploited newly developed mineralogical and geochemical analytical techniques that allow high-resolution chemical imaging at nanoscale to decimeter-scale. Thus, we can constrain reaction pathways in time, but also provide novel constraints on compound distribution and mobility in space. Our approach is always multi-disciplinary, involving Sedimentology, Petrography, Palaeontology, Analytical Organic and Inorganic Geochemistry and Geochemical Modelling. The results of our work benefit a wide cross-section of researchers within the fields of Palaeontology, Geochemistry, Limnology, but reaching further into applied disciplines dealing with waste disposal and hydrocarbon reservoirs.

Finally, our research has impacted standard museum practice with regards to specimen care, handling and storage as a function of our published work. The value of fossil material has been significantly enhanced through a greater chemical understanding obtained through the application of synchrotron spectroscopy and other modern techniques.

Another key value of research into fossils is cultural. There is intense interest in the evolution of life on Earth. Research of this nature is widely reported in the traditional media as well as online, and through more educational outlets such as museums. My team has considerable evidence of prior engagement: they have worked directly with various official bodies such as the British Science Association, The Royal Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to provide diverse public engagement activities such as public lectures, school visits, science festival activities, podcasts, bar science talks, and special museum events; our scientific work has been widely reported on all the mainstream media outlets, as well as specialist scientific press such as New Scientist and National Geographic. In addition, all members of my team have appeared on documentary programs from the BBC, Channel 4, Discovery, National Geographic, to the History Channel.

Q: What are some favorite experiences/research you’ve done?

A: The imaging research that my team and I have been working on these past 10 years is so exciting…almost every scan that we undertake at synchrotron facilities around the world sheds new light on the biology and chemistry of extinct organisms…often with repercussions relevant to living organisms today! When you shine x-ray light that is brighter than 10 billion suns…you get a shed-load of data and plenty exciting revelations (See Dr. Manning's TEDxCharleston talk)



Dr. Manning presenting at TEDxCharleston in 2016

Q: What advice would you have for future geologists?

A: Fossils are just as exciting as rocks!

Q: What's a funny story regarding geology?

A: Hmmmmmm, this is a tough one, there are too many funny stories…that were never meant to be funny in the first place! However, when giving a tour to Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip)…I inadvertently strayed into a ‘heated' discussion with the Duke on the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. The Queen and Prince Philip were opening the ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ exhibition that I had help to build for the BBC, which included the fossil of a plesiosaur (the small-headed, long-necked, barrel bodied…diamond-shaped paddled marine reptile from the Jurassic). The Duke was sure that that these creatures were still alive and lurking in a certain Scottish Loch. I was insistent that they were long extinct. The Duke also insisted that people had seen such animals at Loch Ness, and I replied…’this was possibly a combination of both whisky and the Scottish Tourist Board". Luckily we had to move on to another part of the exhibit!

Dr. Manning and the Queen

Dr. Manning with the Queen and Prince Phillip, still on good terms despite the Loch Ness disagreement

Previous Faculty Interviews:

Dr. John Chadwick

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