Geology Professor Robert Gaines Leads Team in Uncovering 100-Year Mystery

Gaines has been studying the Burgess
Shale for twelve years, and his research has taken him from British Columbia to
Utah and all the way to China. His team
includes researchers from  Denmark, China and the United Kingdom. Still, Gaines believes
that his accomplishment would not have been possible without the resources
available to him during his last nine years at Pomona. He cited the assistance of six graduates from the Claremont Colleges and Pomona’s possession of analytical equipment rarely available to small undergraduate colleges—a Scanning Electron Microscopy instrument
and new National Science Foundation-funded X-ray fluorescence instrument—as essential to the research.

Gaines believes his teaching and his
research go hand in hand.

“Learning isn’t just a bunch of facts,” Gaines said.
“It is an investigation process.”

He appreciates the opportunities in
the classroom, the laboratory and the field that he and his students have to
“ask questions together.”

The necessity for undergraduate professors
to be broad in their teaching areas is one of the things Gaines loves
about the small college environment. “It provides a balance to professional
life that does not exist at a large state school,” Gaines said. “It forces you
to think outside the box.”

The only disadvantage to the liberal
arts setting that Gaines mentions is the limited time he has with his students.

“Often, I won’t get to work with someone until their junior or senior year, and
then that student graduates,” he said.

Gaines’s success is not only
inspirational for geology and science majors, but for students facing any
academic or research challenge.

“At first, you’re pounding your head against a
problem and it feels confusing, but no real discovery comes without that phase
of being really confused,” Gaines said.

Gaines has good advice for his undergraduate students. “Follow any question you are
interested in,” Gaines said in encouragement. “When you reach that point where you’re
feeling really confused, that’s the place where it’s just about to get

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