Geology researchers join national program

John Webster, Courtney Chatburn, and Hannah Murray.

MINOT, N.D. – At a glance, geology research might seem a stretch for two chemistry majors. But for Courtney Chatburn and Hannah Murray, it makes perfect sense.

“For me it started last semester,” Chatburn said. “I took a research methods class and each of the science professors came and pitched what their research projects were. And something about looking at sand grains and seeing what kind of chemicals were in them — well, that’s pretty cool.”

“I want to go into space and planetary science research, so chemistry and geology go hand in hand,” Murray added. “So I went in for an advising appointment right before school started and Dr. Webster said Courtney was conducting geochemistry research with him and asked if I would like to join.”

John Webster, Minot State geosciences professor, has a long history of combining the two sciences. In fact, he earned his Bachelor of Art degree from Hope College ’81 with majors in geology and chemistry.

“What we’re trying to do here is get really accurate percentages on the mineralogy from potential frac sand sources,” Webster said. “Then we’re going to test some other methods like a bulk chemical analysis and X-ray diffraction. In the end, we will discover which method is going to be the most reliable, most efficient way to characterize frac sand as quality control.

“With Courtney and Hannah both coming from chemistry, this is an opportunity to use some tools, to use some instrumentation that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

The research is also creating another unique opportunity for Chatburn, Murray, and Webster: the trio is the lone North Dakota university team in the Scholars Transforming Through Research (STR): Council on Undergraduate Research’s Advocacy Program.

Developed as an expanded and enhanced program to replace Posters on the Hill — of which Minot State students have been selected 10 times since 2009 — and the REU Symposium while drawing on their success, the program is creating engagement for students at varied stages of the undergraduate research process. 

“This program is for undergraduate research students and their advisors to come together and learn,” said Chatburn. “How to talk with policymakers and legislators so that once you’re done with your research, whatever your project is, you can try to put it into the real world and makes some changes in the community.”

“This is a really good opportunity to learn what research is about, how to approach it, and how to apply what I’ve learned in my research to the bigger picture and advocate for that,” said Murray.

The six-month program kicked off at The Westin Alexandria Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia in October and will end April 2023.

“This was a mandatory face-to-face two-day event,” said Webster. “They talked about how to approach policymakers. For us, it isn’t so much about our research into the minerology of frac sand. It is about how to approach someone and build undergraduate research at Minot State as a whole.

“I think one of the things that sets up apart from other smaller schools is that there are a lot of research opportunities here at Minot State, in a wide range of disciplines.”

The two-day event included sessions such as Connecting & Building Relationships with Policymakers, Policy Brief Writing Workshop, and networking events. The remainder of the program will be held online, with webinar series held monthly around topics such as Op-ed Writing & Pitching, Engaging with Government Agencies, Policy Mapping: Navigating Your Network, and Media Interviews & Building Relationships with Reporters. The STR program will culminate with online meetings with policymakers and an online showcase.

While softball originally brought Chatburn and Murray to MSU, they have found their place within the academic halls as well.

“You really get a change to know who you’re going to school with, to make connections with people, and have a network you can rely on,” said Murray, from Red Deer, Alberta. “And the opportunities we have here, it is so cool. I don’t think I would be doing research like this if I was at a bigger school.”

“I think we’re both just grateful to be at this school and to have the opportunity to be doing what we’re doing,” added Chatburn, from Cave Creek, Arizona. “I definitely recommend Minot State to other people. It’s a great school for research, and for other projects. It’s part of what draws people to come here.”


About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 01/17/23   

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