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Students in hard hats at quarry

Students from Volgenau School of Engineering examined geological formations at the 1,500-acre Cedar Mountain Quarry in the Shenandoah Mountain foothills.

Quarry Visit Is a Blast

When college students say they had a blast, they typically don’t mean watching 20,000 lbs. of explosive power blast 40,000 tons of rock, but that’s how senior civil engineering student Rachael Wright described her field trip to Cedar Mountain Quarry.

Wright was one of 40 students from Volgenau School of Engineering professor Burak Tanyu’s geotechnical engineering class who donned bright orange hard hats on a crisp fall morning and toured the 1,500-acre quarry just south of Culpeper, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Mountain foothills.

Tanyu designed the field trip to teach students about geological formations and what it takes to make the rock aggregate that forms the basis of many Virginia roads. His class combines two fields of study—geotechnical engineering and geology—that are often taught separately.

"Rather than merely memorizing the most common rocks we might see in our work, we are learning how they get there, how to describe them, and what it means when we see certain formations."

Rachael Wright, senior civil engineering student

The class gives prospective geotechnical and civil engineers a background and understanding of the earth's history and processes so they can understand the implications of how these relate to engineering problems such as earthquakes and landslides, as well as making educated assessments for suitable ground conditions and selecting appropriate soils and rocks for construction.

“It was thrilling to see the explosion,” says Wright. “Watching rocks fly, seeing dust billow out from the rubble, and feeling the force of the explosion through the air before hearing it—it was surreal.”