Mar 23, 2019

Lost Box of Rocks: A Lost Thesis

Photo contributed by Jeanette Hagan

“Please help if you can! … If you received a box of rocks and couldn’t believe we delivered them to you, please contact Robert Wright immediately.”

This urgent message went out to the Fresno State e-mail bulletin board last week, in the hopes of locating a missing package. The box holds months of scientific research.

Jeanette Hagan, a graduate student working on her Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara, sent the package of rock samples to Fresno State via UPS. The rocks, collected from the Sierra Nevada mountains, were meant for additional research in her thesis.

Hagan realized something was wrong when the intended recipients — Dr. Keith Putirka of the earth and environmental sciences department, and his student Marlon Jean — informed Hagan that the precious cargo had not arrived.

The only clue in the case of the missing rocks is that UPS listed the package as arriving at Fresno State. Though it’s a possibility the box simply landed in the wrong hands, Hagan can only speculate.

“Honestly, they could be lying underneath someone’s desk. It could easily happen,” Hagan said, as she imagined her precious rock samples collecting dust in some department office. “There could be many other boxes around, like the kind that hold paper.”

Photo contributed by Jeanette Hagan

Picturing the rock samples in the hands of a puzzled recipient, Hagan saw how one person’s treasured research could be another person’s paperweights.

Hoping to get past the “huh?” factor, Hagan realized that no one except the intended recipients would truly know the meaning behind the contents.

“I would hope they would see the invoice inside and see they were meant for Marlon Jean,” she said. “Well, I wouldn’t think anyone would ship a box of paperweights.”

Putirka described how Hagan’s 10 rock samples were meant to undergo specific testing and analysis in Fresno. Putirka and Jean were collaborating with Hagan on the project.

“She was sending them here so that we can analyze her samples by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, an analytical instrument in my lab,” Putirka said. The research on the samples was related to “tectonics, volcanic activity and uplift of the Sierra Nevada.”

With their scientific destiny temporarily left unfulfilled — and no word yet on the rocks’ whereabouts — Hagan was unsure about her next course of action.

“I have completed almost all of the lab work on these rocks, but we were hoping to run one more analysis,” Hagan said.

She also said there might be a way to work around the missing rocks.

Having sent all the samples that she had of those 10 rocks, Hagan said there is only a small possibility of re-collecting any of the samples.

“If we do need this data to complete our research, next summer I will have to spend a few days hiking to sites I’ve already visited at Carson Pass collecting samples,” she said. “It is too cold and there is too much snow at these sites to accomplish this in 2007.”

While waiting for the package to turn up, Hagan formulated some theories of her own.

“I think one of two things happened. It either fell off a truck at Fresno and was lost, or it is sitting in some department or office, shoved under a desk collecting dust,” Hagan said. “I’m hoping it’s the latter.”

If you have information on the missing rock samples, please contact Robert Wright at Warehouse and Property Services, 278-2139.

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