Understanding the structural component of geology is difficult even for the most enthusiastic students, but it’s also vital to our understanding of how the Earth works. Using sandbox models, we aim to help students, teachers, scientists and anyone who has ever wondered about their local mountains gain a better understanding of the amazing and complex processes at play in the formation of mountains.

Tectonic models for teaching, outreach and learning by Virginia Tech‘s Active Tectonics and Geomorphology Lab. All models were made by Dr. Phillip Prince.


S Fork Roanoke

Philip Prince completed his PhD at Virginia Tech. His doctoral research focused on the origin and evolution of transient incision events in eastern North America, with particular emphasis on the role of drainage rearrangement in shaping the modern Appalachian landscape. His interest in physical models stems from the strong expression of structure and lithology in the Appalachian landscape, where much of his field-intensive research is centered. Philip is also involved in a study of exhumation in eastern Jamaica, which (unfortunately) requires considerable mapping and sampling in the parishes of Portland and St. Thomas. Outside of the office, Philip enjoys model aviation, shoemaking, and whitewater canoeing. His experiences in steep Appalachian streams offer a unique firsthand perspective on bedrock incision in streams such as the South Fork of the Roanoke River (pictured), the subject of his 2011 Geology paper.


Lisa Whalen assists with the formatting and writing of the blog is currently learning to make models. Lisa is a PhD student at Virginia Tech where she is studying thermal timescales during the formation of the Himalaya. Her Master’s focused on melting during the breakup of supercontinents. If she’s not thinking about how mountains formed then most likely she’s climbing one.