ATU Program Taking Steps to Support Lithium Industry

ATU Geology Lab File Photo
File photo of Dr. Jason Patton, Arkansas Tech University professor of geology, assisting ATU students in a geology laboratory at McEver Hall.

Arkansas Tech University faculty in the program currently known as geology are taking steps to evolve the program’s curriculum to ensure that graduates are prepared for emerging career opportunities related to the discovery and recovery of critical elements such as lithium.

Part of the evolution would be changing the name of the ATU Bachelor of Science degree in geology to a Bachelor of Science degree in geosciences. The proposed revised curriculum would preserve the program’s ability to create licensed geologists while simultaneously accounting for the growing need for experts in the acquisition of critical elements, particularly as lithium deposits are discovered in Arkansas and efforts to mine that resource begin.

“Students who graduate with a geosciences credential from Arkansas Tech University will be well prepared to support the rapidly emerging lithium industry in Arkansas,” said Dr. Michael Davis, ATU associate professor of geology. “They will have the knowledge necessary to work in the discovery and recovery of lithium while also mitigating the environmental impacts of mineral extraction.”

Dr. Jason Patton, ATU professor of geology, said critical and rare earth elements have important applications beyond the production of batteries. He said they are also integral in the creation of magnets and a wide variety of modern technologies.

“Critical and rare earth elements are necessary components of more than 200 products across a wide range of applications, especially high-tech consumer products, such as cellular telephones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles and flat-screen monitors and televisions,” states a news release from the U.S. Geological Survey. “Significant defense applications include electronic displays, guidance systems, lasers and radar and sonar systems.”

Patton is currently working alongside his ATU students on a research project about rare earth elements.

“These are critical minerals for a green society,” said Patton.

In this case, green equates to environmental sustainability and economic opportunity for ATU geosciences graduates.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median pay for geoscientists in the United States in May 2022 was $87,480.

“Employment of geoscientists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations,” states the U.S. Department of Labor in its job outlook for geoscientists. “About 2,200 openings for geoscientists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.”

Current and prospective ATU students who wish to learn more about the study of geosciences at Arkansas Tech are invited to send e-mail to