Geologist Profile

Dr. Nelson R. Shaffer

Dr. Nelson R. Shaffer
Head of the Coal and Industrial
Minerals Section at the Indiana
Geological Survey

 Dr. Nelson R. Shaffer – Geologist

Download Profile (PDF)

What I do:

I study applied geology. This means that I look at the different materials that are found in the earth.

Advice for a science career:

Science is a great career for thinking about things that nobody else has thought of before. If you do it right,people will pay you to do what you love!

How I became interested in a science career:

I grew up on a farm in Ohio, and my job was to pick rocks out of the field so they wouldn’t wreck the farm equipment. I noticed there were many kinds of rocks, in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Even some that sparkle. It was amazing to me! When I was in middle school, my father opened a sand and gravel business, which allowed me to continue hunting for even more rocks under the soil. One day, I found a broken rock and discovered it had crystals and even a bug in it! Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on finding interesting and sparkly rocks.

My interests :

I enjoy working with shiny, pretty rocks, but am mostly interested in industrial minerals and processes. This includes carbonate rocks, coal geology, alternate uses for coal, reuses of mined lands, reduction of powerplant emissions, hydrology, and high tech innovations to enhance mineral uses.

What my typical day looks like:

About half of my time is spent outside in the field, collecting samples of rock. When I’m back in the lab, I use instruments like microscopes and xray machines to look at the rock samples and collect data. After I spend time analyzing my data and reviewing the research in my field, I write about my findings so I can share them with others.

Education and Training:

    • B.S., Geology, Ohio State University
    • M.S., Geology, Ohio State University
    • Ph.D., Geology, Indiana University

Glossary of Terms:

Applied Geology: the study of the practical ways geology can be used to solve environmental problems.

Crystals: three-dimensional structures whose atoms arrange themselves in a pattern that repeats over and over. Precious gems like diamond, rubies, and emeralds are all crystals.

Industrial minerals: geologic materials like sand, clay, gravel, and limestone that are mined for commercial use.
Another example is silica, which is used to make computer chips.

Carbonate rocks: rocks that contain compounds made of oxygen and carbon. An example is limestone, which is also known as calcium carbonate.

Hydrology: a branch of science concerned with the properties of water, especially its movement in relation to land.

Powerplant emissions: byproducts released from powerplants like nitrogen and sulfur that can pollute the environment.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were to interview Nelson Shaffer, what questions would you ask him?
  2. Dr. Shaffer studies issues like reuses of mined lands and reduction in powerplant emissions. Why do you think these are important topics to study?
  3. Why do you think hydrology, the study of water processes, would be important for someone who studies rocks?

    4. Dr. Shaffer talks about getting to work outside and then analyzing his data in the lab.

    Why do you think writing is also important to his work as a scientist?

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