The lab & our group

Group members and friends on the ferry to Perito Moreno Glacier

We are based out of several facilities at the University of Minnesota (UMN) and Minnesota State, Mankato (MNSU). First, at UMN, the historic Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory (Google Maps), built into the side of the largest waterfall on the Mississippi, is where we interact wtih fluid dynamicists from across science and engineering. We also run and maintain the Surface Processes Instrumentation Lab within the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences in John T. Tate Hall. Earth & Environmental Sciences is the department MNiMORPH faculty Dr. Andy Wickert calls his tenure home and also the entity that grants students’ degrees through UMN. Second, at MNSU, the newly created EARTH Systems Laboratory was established in 2021. The EARTH Systems Laboratory is a student-focused Quaternary science, archeology, and geomorphology/surface process laboratory in Carkowski Commons at MNSU. In addition, MNiMORPH faculty Dr. Phillip Larson’s tenure home is within the Department of Geography and Earth Science Programs at MNSU, through which students earn their degrees.

Group members and friends at Grand Canyon

Our group is led by Dr. Andrew Wickert and Dr. Phillip Larson. Wickert is also an Associate of the Institute on the Environment (IonE), which hosts educational and research programs and helps us to communicate our work and to produce impactful applications. Dr. Phillip Larson, founded the EARTH Systems Lab, is a collaborator with the lab, and is the Director of Earth Science Programs at Minnesota State, Mankato. Wickert is graduate faculty at Minnesota State, Mankato, allowing for him to work directly with MNSU Geography and Earth Science students. Larson is also graduate faculty in Earth and Environmental Sciences at the Univeristy of Minnesota and can work with UMN graduate students as well.

Most importantly, though, we are the lab members. We are a team. If you are inquisitive, open-minded, interested in connecting theory and observations, and someone who wants to be a member of a diverse and collaborative team, you could be a good fit. If you are excited about instrumentation design, numerical methods, physical computing, laboratory experiments, geomorphic history, field investigations, sea level, and/or the development of theory, your interests intersect with ours. We have limited positions, but we’re always glad to hear form interested applicants.

What is a UROP, MS, PhD, or Postdoc all about?

There are multiple ways to become involved in the lab group. Below is an overview of the goals for each type of experience and position within the group, as well as a brief description of the position itself.

  • At the completion of an undergraduate research position (UROP or REU), a student will have gained knowledge in an area of research as well as insights into how the lab and group operate. These positions start with basic skills and then grow, and undergraduate researchers who work with us throughout much of their time at the university end up operating more like MS students and can contribute to or lead research studies.
  • A MS in geoscience indicates that a student has the skills and capacity to bring a complex scientific project to completion.
    • A MS program is typically 2 years.
    • You will receive guidance from your advisor and/or other research group members.
    • You will typically join a project whose focus is already tightly defined.
  • A PhD in geoscience indicates that a student has built a substantial body of work that adds to the collective knowledge about the Earth system, and in the process has acquired the skills to become a successful independent scientist.
    • A PhD program is typically 4-6 years.
    • You will receive guidance from group members, but advance towards independence through time, and ideally graduate as a colleague and collaborator of the research team.
    • You may or may not join a predefined project, but are expected either way to take the lead in shaping your role and work.
  • A postdoctoral research scientist (“postdoc”) uses their time with the research group to advance their studies and make new scientific discoveries. They may help to advise students, run the lab, and take early steps towards building independent research directions and programs. Upon completion, a postdoc should have gained both depth and breadth in the geosciences and be well positioned to become a leading researcher, skilled scientist, and effective mentor.

Prospective Students

Andy Wickert:

Research broadly focuses on questions of river systems, sea level, glaciers, and paleoclimate. Our primary tools are continuum mechanics, computational analyses, instrumentation design, data synthesis, and field measurements. I am generally in search of students with strong mathematics/engineering/fluid mechanics backgrounds, though I do also bring in more traditional geologists/geographers.

Wickert’s group is currently quite large, but he would consider applicants for projects in the general topics below. When reaching out about projects, it would be helpful to indicate which of the following topics interest you (and why, and what you might like to do in that direction), and if none do, then to suggest a different project. Due to the size of the group, there is a current need to keep some amount of focus (so advising support isn’t spread thin among too many topics), but creative ideas are always appreciated. With deep apologies: I cannot guarantee a response to requests to join the group that do not indicate that you have done background research into our research and goals or to how your future aspirations may align with these.

Theory/computation

Wickert is always looking to hire curious, engaged, mathematically-minded individuals who want to help develop the underlying theory for how Earth’s surface changes and evolves.

Phillip Larson:

Larson’s Website: https://mavdisk.mnsu.edu/dj1515bb/geomorph/

Prospective M.S. students with strong backgrounds in field-based geoscience and/or environmental science are encouraged to contact Dr. Larson (phillip.larson@mnsu.edu). Much of Larson’s research is field and geospatial data-focused, so field work and GIS interests are necessary. Larson has a number of research projects ongoing that potential graduate students focused on geomorphology/surface processes, geoarcheology, environmental issues impacted by land-use and climate change, and natural hazards could be suitable for. Many of these projects are focused on landscapes in the upper Midwest, USA, where (de)glaciation, climate change, and human interaction with the environment have produced a dynamic natural laboratory for rapid late Quaternary, post-Euro-American-settlement, and ongoing landscape change. This ongoing change is also tied to environmental problems and natural hazards (e.g. landslides, water quality issues, soil degradation, etc.). These landscapes also host an impressive, but poorly understood history of Native American people’s who interacted with the environment through the late Pleistocene and Holocene. If any of this sounds interesting, please contact Dr. Larson. Larson is also actively working in the Basin and Range and Colorado Plateau and may have capacity for students interested in work there. Future work is being planned in Colorado Plateau region, Iceland, and within the Lake Superior basin. Larson is also receptive to inquiries with creative ideas/research questions in mind. Just reach out. Please make sure to include your C.V. and unofficial transcripts if you contact him.

Field/Laboratory/Geospatial

Larson is open to bringing in students interested in field and laboratory methods that can be utilized to build, test, and improve theory. Geospatial, geochronological, shallow geophysical (GPR), soils/sediment methods are primarily used by Larson and his students in this work. If field work, field data collection, and laboratory work are of interest, then please inquire!

Potential Projects

Ph.D. student or Postdoc (University of Minnesota)

  • Working with Andy Wickert
  • Sea level, drainage/lake/depression networks and associated graph theory, (paleo)climate, hydrology–geomorphology links, hillslope–fluvial sediment continuum, etc.: Not necessarily all of these!
  • Data–model integratioon

Desired skills

  • Scientific programming and software development (C++ and/or Python; Fortran = bonus)
  • Geospatial computation, ideally including geospatial and/or topographic analysis
  • Mathematics, physics, and fluid mechanics
  • GitHub and/or initiative to learn
  • Field observational skills and/or desire to learn

Deciphering the glacial and deglacial history of the upper Mississippi valley

Both PhD and M.S. students

  • Working with Larson and Wickert
  • Linking Quaternary fluvial-system change and geochronology (OSL, 14C, cosmogenic radionuclides)
  • Modeling river long-profile evolution
  • Linking research to ice-sheet and proglacial-lake history
  • Interested in reconstructing the proglacial lake flood history of the Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers
  • Interested in reconstructing the evolution of rivers flowing into the Lake Superior basin.
  • Interested in understanding the impacts of these floods on tributary systems and the upper Mississippi drainage basin’s evolution
  • Theoretical underpinning tied to base level adjustments and fluvial system response
  • Connections between geomorphology, sedimentology, and landscape evolution

Desired skills

  • Scientific programming and software development (C++ and/or Python)
  • Geospatial computation and topographic analysis
  • Field geomorphology and Quaternary geology
  • (Can be taught through short courses) Quaternary geochronology –>

Environmental instrumentation

M.S. or Ph.D. student (University of Minnesota)

  • Working with Andy Wickert
  • Designing, testing, and documenting sensors to measure water level
  • Possible extension to broader-scale weather and climate instrumentation
  • Focus will be on implementation: Bobby Schulz (current student) has completed or thoroughly started many hardware designs. This position therefore focuses on:
    • Field testing
    • Documentation
    • Telemetry
    • Bringing these technologies to the people who need them

Desired skills

  • Electrical engineering: circuit design, fabrication, and assembly
  • Mechanical engineering: CAD, fabrication (CNC, 3D printing), and assembly
  • Scientific programming and software development (C++ and/or Python), with a focus on Arduino-style embedded C++
  • Field instrumentation assembly and data analysis

Post-glacial paleoenvironmental change/Holocene paleoenvironmental change in the upper Mississippi basin

M.S. student (MNSU)

  • Working with Larson as primary advisor
  • Working with aeolian and periglacial landforms and deposits
  • Identifying (remotely and in the field) and dating (with OSL) ancient aeolian deposits and periglacial features
  • Potentially coring wetlands/lakes to recover proxy archives
  • Potentially utilizing Ground Penetrating Radar to understand stratigraphy and sedimentary structure
  • geochronology (14C, OSL), particle size analysis, coring, possible isotopic analysis
  • Bringing pulses of aeolian activity, periglacial features, and proxy records into a broad paleogeographic framework

Testing and documenting environmental instrumentation

Undergraduate research assistant

  • Working with Andy Wickert
  • Interest in and/or experience with sensors and programming required

Important information for international students and visitors

Prospective international students and visitors to the University of Minnesota should be in touch with Andy Wickert and International Student and Scholar Services at the University of Minnesota.

Prospective international students and visitors to Minnesota State, Mankato should be in touch with Phillip Larson and Global Education at Minnesota State, Mankato.

Important information for prospective students

Key areas of expertise

Our hope is for all students in the group to gain skills and confidence in all three major areas of our work

  • Developing theory / numerical modeling / data-analysis techniques
  • Laboratory research, whether in instrumentation design/development, geochronologic methods, or at SAFL (hydraulics and sediments)and the EARTH Systems Laboratory
  • Field work, which can range from local projects in river valleys to farther-flung work in remote locations and on glaciers

Core course requirements and competencies

The University of Minnesota requires three pairs of core-science courses to ensure that our graduate-student entry requirements are equivalent to our undergraduate-student graduation requirements:

  • 2 semesters of calculus (this means through the end of single-variable)
  • 2 semesters of chemistry (this can sometimes be satisfied with geochemistry as one semester)
  • 2 semesters of physics (typically, this is classical mechanics + E&M) If you have not completed them, you may still apply but will have to complete these classes before you can graduate. Please be in touch if this is the case.

I expect that by the time they graduate, all of my students will exceed these levels of core competencies in mathematics and computation. Strong skills in differential equations, linear algebra, and programming (Python, C/C++, and possibly Fortran) will open a range of options for your future scientific career.

Core requirements and competencies for MNSU students are evaluated on a case by case basis depending on the research interests. The M.S. program in Geography at MNSU is flexible given the variable nature of students enrolling in Geography programs. Thus, it is highly recommended that you inquire with Phillip Larson, if interested, and he can guide you on this.

Field work

We welcome field scientists of all levels of physical ability.

If you are interested in working in the field with us at a site that requires strenuous backcountry travel, we expect that by the time of our departure, you will be able to carry a heavy load (35% of your body weight or greater) at a standard backpacker’s pace (~1–2 miles per hour) over uneven terrain for multiple days. This is a requirement for both completion of the work and (most importantly) the safety of you and the group.

If your physical conditioning and/or a disability preclude this kind of work, we’d still like to see everyone who is interested join us in the field! We have some amazing and accessible field sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin wtih scientifically valuable and under-studied geomorphic histories and ongoing change. It is most important that students are comfortable with their research and in a good place to succeed.

Personal learning and development objectives

It is our goal that students in my group become confident, independent-minded, collaborative, and self-aware researchers. This is a place to stretch your imagination and abilities. Sometimes there are funded projects with things that just need to be done, but as much as possible, we want to promote your ability to learn and explore.

Being supportive of you as a scientist means that we will also be (hopefully kindly) critical of your ideas and explanations. We want to make sure that you communicate clearly, ensure that your approaches are logically consistent, and verify that your work will be impactful. We typically help students early-on with some amount of coding, writing style and English-language usage (yes, even for native speakers), field skills, and geomorphic concepts. We expect that Ph.D. students will become much more independent and that our conversations become more high level later in your graduate career, and for you to be able to overcome appropriately greater challenges as your journey through your graduate career progresses. We expect similar independence and progress with M.S. students, but always have more rigidly defined projects in order to set students up for a 2-year path to graduation.