Peter C. Lippert portrait
  • Associate Professor, Geology & Geophysics
  • Affiliated Faculty, Global Change & Sustainability Center

Current Courses

Fall 2020

  • GEO 2500-001
    Wasatch in the Field
  • GEO 3100-001
    Dynamic Earth
    Location: CANVAS (CANVAS)
  • GEO 6920-013
    Special Topics
    Location: CANVAS (CANVAS)

Spring 2020

Professional Organizations

  • National Association of Geoscience Teachers . 01/2017 - present. Position : Member.
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science . 12/2016 - present. Position : Member.
  • European Geosciences Union. 04/01/2016 - present. Position : Member.
  • Geological Society of America. 09/2004 - present. Position : Member.
  • American Geophysical Union. 06/2001 - present. Position : Member.

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching and research are a continuum of activity. Like my research approach, my teaching style is dynamic and flexible, but it is grounded in observations made and values developed in a variety of teaching and mentoring experiences. Above all, I show people how to use geoscience to address specific questions that pique their curiosity. My goal as an instructor and advisor is to instill in students an appreciation for Earth Science as a philosophy, as a way to interpret the world around them and their sense of place in it, and to equip them with the skills and confidence to draw their own informed conclusions and make their own discoveries.


Developing this appreciation can be challenging, but as an Earth Scientist I am fortunate to teach topics that excite me and inspire my own work every day. Whether I am teaching an introductory survey-level class, an advanced class in the major, or working with graduate students, I strive to convey this excitement by emphasizing that Earth Science is a creative process of observation, prediction, and testing. I believe it is important to show students of all levels how we do science and to get them acting like scientists as early as possible. I do this by encouraging students to ask questions, and then equipping them with the terminology and skills necessary for making good observations, recognizing important connections and where collaboration will be beneficial, and constructing robust tests. Finally, we return to those initial questions and synthesize. After all, this is the very strategy we employ in our own research.


I think it is my responsibility as an instructor to help students recognize that despite their own unique challenges in a subject, they each have their own knowledge base that can help teach their peers, and that indeed they have much to learn from each other. I think this approach emphasizes the importance of knowing the basics at the individual level, while also demonstrating the importance of collaborative learning and problem solving. Moreover, interactive classrooms give me the opportunity to learn from students, who constantly challenge me to think about material in new ways or broaden my own knowledge base. The entire process fosters a collaborative learning environment and encourages ownership of one’s education at all levels.


As an instructor and a field-based geoscientist, it is also my responsibility to ensure that students recognize that their conclusions must be rooted in sound first principles and data-rich observations. I try to design classes and labs that ensure students make primary observations and collect their own data. For example, these opportunities can be provided by interpreting topography and remotely-sensed data sets on paper or on a computer, describing hand samples and outcrops, or having students complete miniature paleomagnetic projects from the stage of sample collection to data interpretation. This student work, whether it consists of labs or written or oral reports, must emphasize these primary data, and for advanced undergraduate and graduate students, it should be supplemented and informed by published literature. I set high standards for all of my students, and I reward each student with regular, timely, honest, and constructive feedback. My evaluation of students’ work emphasizes correcting and learning from mistakes, and that by iteration, students will converge on a solid skill set of making, describing, and communicating observations and synthesizing their ideas. Depending on the level of the course, I prefer to challenge students not only with traditional lab exercises and class exams, but also (or instead) with collaborative field-based mapping projects with professional-style summary reports, manuscript reviews and proposal writing, and peer-reviewed oral presentations. These assignments convey to students how scientists think by forcing them to be scientists. I think this exercise is just as important for non-majors as it is for advanced undergraduate and graduate students.

Courses I Teach

  • GEO 3030 - Living with Earthquakes & Volcanoes (Lecture)
    (modified from other offerings of this course at the U) Earthquakes and volcanoes build mountains, create oceans, disrupt and sometimes destroy cities and even entire civilizations. These phenomena mostly occur in specific active zones of the Earth’s crust, but sometimes they occur in seemingly unexpected places, too. Here in Salt Lake City, we live near (on!) both active faults and active volcanoes. This course explores these two dramatic processes and how we, as human society, respond to or live with them. We will approach earthquakes and volcanoes from a variety of perspectives: the physical sciences (basic & applied), social sciences, and engineering. To understand where and why earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur, we start by exploring the geological concepts of plate tectonics, geological time, and the persistence of processes and principles. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions result from a multitude of geological processes ranging from the scale of atoms to that of the globe. Similarly, earthquakes and eruptions impact society both locally and globally, in ways both beneficial and hazardous. The global nature of these hazards requires collaborative international programs for prediction, mitigation, advanced warning, and disaster response; this course is intended to increase individual awareness of the international scope of these hazards. The global patterns of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions place particular burdens on a few countries (e.g., Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, India & Pakistan, China, Italy, Caribbean countries, western Central and South American countries…), and hence we will investigate how these events influence the lives of people and cultures around them. Despite the different effects of earthquakes and volcanoes in different countries, many countries need to find their own answers to the same questions: how do local constraints (e.g., culture, building materials, infrastructure, government, and economics) affect the feasibility of applying scientific and engineering solutions to hazard reduction and the construction of resilient communities? This course will emphasize the contributions of many different disciplines to the Earth sciences and the integrated, collaborative nature of modern science. The course will also explore the societal value of science. To realize the course’s goal, students will be expected to make and record scientific observations, interpret these observations, and share and debate the relative merits of different interpretations of the available data. This course satisfies the University’s International Requirement, as well as the Physical & Life Science Exploration requirement.
  • GEO 3060 (now 4060) - Structural Geology & Tectonics
    Structural geology is concerned with describing and quantifying strain (deformation) observed in rocks and relating that deformation to tectonic stresses (forces) in the past. In this course, you will learn to recognize and describe a wide variety of tectonic structures and interpret the geologic history of rocks and regions based on your observations and measurements at a variety of scales. Learning outcomes include: 1. To be able to recognize, describe, and analyze rock deformation from thin-section to regional scale. This includes the characterization of the composition and geometry of rock bodies, with an emphasis on geologic map interpretation. 2. To be able to explain the fundamentals of stress, strain, and rheology and how they pertain to rock deformation. e.g., the kinematics (motion) and dynamics (forces) of elastic and plastic deformation and the resulting faults and other fractures, folds, and rock fabrics. 3. To be able to relate rock deformation to plate tectonics. By the end of this course, you should be able to apply your knowledge of mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and geology— learned herein and from previous coursework— to articulate the fundamental principals of structural geology as they pertain to studying Earth processes and human interactions with these processes. You will achieve this by collecting, analyzing, and interpreting geological data in field, lab, and classroom settings.
  • GEO 6920 - Tectonics of Sedimentary Basins
    This course investigates the mechanisms involved in the initiation, evolution, and preservation of sedimentary basins. We will develop an understanding of the stratigraphic, structural, and thermal characteristics of basin types from various plate tectonic settings, including divergent, convergent, and transform plate margins, and intraplate provinces. We will use case studies of modern and ancient examples to familiarize students with a catalog of multidisciplinary tools used in basin analysis, including outcrop-based sedimentologic and subsurface geophysical interpretation, provenance and geochronology, and quantitative modeling techniques. We will explore the broader implications of basin analysis studies including discussion of controls on sedimentary packaging, implications for fluid migration and hydrocarbon potential in different basin settings, using basins to reconstruct the history of orogenic systems, and recent advances and controversies in the field of basin analysis. At least one previous sedimentology/stratigraphy course is required, and structural geology is strongly recommended: this course is taught at the graduate level and a reasonable background in sedimentology, stratigraphy, structural geology, and regional tectonics is assumed.
  • GEO 6920 - The Magnetic Earth
    This lecture, lab, and discussion course will introduce students to the fundamentals and applications of geomagnetism, paleomagnetism, and rock & mineral magnetism in the context of Earth System Science. Students will gain experience reading, discussing, reviewing, and presenting scientific literature, as well as writing grant proposals and data reports. The course also consists of a series of problem sets, which will (hopefully) include a class project in which students will learn a variety of rock and paleomagnetic analytical techniques by generating their own data in the Utah Paleomagnetic Center and applying a variety of rock magnetic and paleomagnetic data reduction and synthesis techniques. The course is intended for graduate students and upper-level undergraduate students. It is assumed that students have completed their general physics requirements Earth Materials II, and Geophysics prior to enrolling in this class.

Former Students

  • Tim van Peer, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Project Type: Thesis. Role: Member. Institution: University of Southampton.
  • Vicki Taylor, Master of Science (M.S.), Project Type: Thesis. Role: Member. Institution: University of Southampton.
  • Wentao Huang, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Project Type: Thesis. Role: Member. Institution: Utrecht University.