Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Director

Declan De Paor (Director)

Committee Member

Jennifer Georgen (Co-Director)

Committee Member

Gail Dodge


This thesis originates from the testing and implementation of an IRB-approved interactive animation designed to help students understand what causes The Reasons For The Seasons (RFTS) on Earth. Results from the testing indicated a small improvement in student understanding after exposure to the animation. Next, using the 3-D mapping tool Google Earth, students explored seasons and other planetary features on Mercury, Venus, the Moon and Mars through IRB-approved interactive tours which were developed and tested for astronomy education. Results from the tests indicated that there were statistically significant learning gains (p-value < 0.05) after students interacted with the tours compared to those who did not. The development of the tours inspired a geophysics study of the possibility of former plate motion (or plate tectonics) on Mars. A 2-D finite element convection model for the mantle of Mars was designed and solved using COMSOL Multiphysics 5.1, to investigate whether or not thermal gradients in a Mars-sized planet could cause vigorous upper mantle convection, consistent with plate tectonic processes. Results from this project indicated that stable convection could occur in the interior of a Mars-like planet assuming the presence of sufficiently high thermal gradients at about 0.8 times the mantle temperature of Earth. The convective patterns resembled hot upwelling and cool downwelling which may be similar to subduction-like features. Furthermore, increasing the temperature of the hot boundaries resulted in faster, more rigorous convective motions and a hotter average temperature.


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