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October ROCKS at Mercyhurst

Monday, September 14, 2015

Flash back and discover the nightmarish creatures that once inhabited Erie; flash forward and delve into the mysteries of our celestial neighbors when Mercyhurst University geologists Scott McKenzie and Nick Lang present ROCKtober.

Sponsored by the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute, Lang’s presentation, “A Voyage through the Solar System,” happens Tuesday, Oct. 6. McKenzie’s program, “Prehistoric Erie,” is Tuesday, Oct. 20. Both events are at 7 p.m. in Walker Recital Hall of the Hirt Academic Center; both are free and open to the public.

Lang, (at right) who is chair of the geology department, has received several research grants to study the planets of Earth, Venus and Mars. Currently, he is working with students on a $250,000 NASA grant to create a geologic map of a section of Venus. They are using radar imagery from the 1989 Magellan mission to record their data and create the map, which involves exploring topography, volcanos, lava flows and other geologic materials. The map will be published by the United States Geological Survey.

Lang’s presentation will answer questions like: Is Venus Earth’s hot twin sister?  Could Mars have hosted water and life?  Why is Mercury so small and dense?  Is it true someone is buried on the Moon?  How and why is the outer solar system so different than the bodies closer to the sun? 

McKenzie (below left) is curator of the Sincak Natural History Collection and well known for the many dinosaur and fossil exhibits he has made available regionally. He has published in scientific journals, done studies with paleontologists from Yale and Princeton universities, and delivered programs at the NASA Explorer School in Texas. He is also a storyteller, delighting audiences of all ages.

His talk will center on formidable predators that once inhabited the Erie area. Among them is Dunkleosteus, a huge prehistoric fish with thick armor plating and a bite rivaling that of Tyrannosaurus Rex. McKenzie will show fossils of this creature, which made its home in the salt water ocean that covered Erie County millions of years ago. He’ll also talk about fossil sea life and relics of ancient people found in the Erie area. He’ll share tales of how a fisherman found a local mammoth, how the co-inventor of the steam shovel discovered fossils dating back 364 million years near North East, and explain how you can further search for Erie’s past. 

McKenzie will also present a collection of fossils and artifacts and is also offering to identify any that audience members bring with them.

For more information on the ROCKtober events at Mercyhurst, please contact Susan Reddinger at