Friday, December 21, 2012

Wildlife, field research and education: Wyoming EPSCoR's EOD Coordinator

Earlier this fall we started a series of blogs about the EPSCoR office. The following is part two of the series and features our Education, Outreach and Diversity (EOD) Coordinator, Beth Cable.

Beth Cable is Wyoming EPSCoR's EOD Coordinator
For a wildlife biologist, field research can look like a lot of things. Sometimes it is observing animals in their natural habitats; sometimes it is looking for changes in migration patterns; and sometimes it is bringing the joy of nature to students through field research projects. For Beth Cable, the Education, Outreach and Diversity (EOD) Coordinator for the CI-WATER grant at Wyoming EPSCoR, field research has been all of these things.
Beth has had a varied career, but of all her experiences, field work has been the best part. “The most fun part of my career was doing wildlife research,” Beth says. “It was a carefree environment where my learning curve was high. It was full of great experiences and gave me a chance to see a lot of the country and a lot of amazing natural things happening.”
Science was always Beth’s favorite subject in high school.  After working as a field researcher for several years following her degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from Penn State University, she started working in outdoor schools.
“I missed interacting with people,” Beth says.
The first outdoor school Beth worked at was in California. The yearlong school is part of California’s public school curriculum which aims to get students outside. As the school was located just south of Yosemite National Park, the students and teachers had a great opportunity to explore the park. After teaching in California, Beth came to Wyoming to work at the Teton Science Schools outside of Jackson Hole. The Teton Science Schools also offers courses all year long. In the winter, students studied the winter environment, including the snow. The summer, however, was the best part for Beth, because it focused on field research. She and her students participated in bird banding and vegetation mapping, among other projects.
“One of my favorite things to do is field research projects with high school students,” Beth says. “I loved doing field work and now I love doing it with students.”
Beth’s love of field research and working with high school students became the focus of her Master’s thesis at the University of Wyoming. After earning her masters, Beth taught science to 7th-12th graders in Rock River, Wyoming, before coming back to UW. Since then, Beth has helped design biology curriculum for UW and coordinated the Wyoming State Science Fair. Today, Beth’s passions and varied experiences guide her work at Wyoming EPSCoR and with Utah universities collaborating with UW on the CI-WATER grant.
“The best part of EPSCoR is the variety of things I get to do,” Beth says. “And I enjoy working with the people in Utah, even though they are far away. I have learned a lot from them.”
Beth’s latest work with Utah has been on toolboxes for K-12 schools in the two states. These toolboxes are designed to teach students about water and encourage them to explore the world of water around them.
“I’m really excited about the toolboxes,” Beth says.
The toolboxes are the result of hard work, collaboration and dedication by Beth and her partners at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Beth’s experiences with teaching and curriculum planning, with real-world science and learning in the outdoors have greatly informed the toolboxes. She is looking forward to piloting them and sending them around the state.
Outside of science and her work at EPSCoR, Beth is an avid trail runner and skate skier.

By Kali S. McCrackin
Photo courtesy of Beth Cable

Thursday, December 13, 2012

SRAP 2013 Applications are Open!

One student worked with plants in greenhouses
As of December 10th, the 2013 Summer ResearchApprentice Program (SRAP) applications are available online. SRAP is a six-week long research program for high school students designed to encourage traditionally underrepresented groups in the science fields to become engaged with and pursue scientific degrees. Students live on and work in research labs at the University of Wyoming campus where they collaborate with faculty mentors on a science research project.
One student studied snails
SRAP is one of Wyoming EPSCoR’s longest and biggest research programs for students. It is a unique opportunity because it provides high school students with hands-on science research experience that most pre-college students do not have the opportunity to pursue. During the program, students are paired with faculty mentors who help guide the students through their projects, but allow the students to take the initiative in the lab.  Students work alongside graduate students and other researchers, conducting experiments, trouble-shooting and recording data. Like their mentors, they experience the difficulties and joys of working in scientific research. Throughout their work, students work on a science paper, with the assistance of their mentor, which they turn into a presentation at the end of the program. The culminating presentation in front of their peers shows students both what college presentations are like, but also what presenting scientific research is all about.
In addition to hands-on research, SRAP introduces students to college life, including what it is like to live and work on campus. For many students, SRAP may be the first time they have been away from home for an extended time. While this can be difficult, the students start to form their own family and every year the students form a tight-knit and supportive community. Living together at the UW Honors House helps create an environment where students can learn and grow together. While their scientific interests may be different, their experiences in learning what science research is about are the same.
Last years SRAP group at their formal dinner
Last year, students worked in a variety of labs across campus, from diabetes research in Kinesiology and Health, to plants in Ecology to behavior in Psychology. In total, there were sixteen students last summer, working in more than ten different departments across campus. This upcoming summer, we anticipate having twenty-two students.
For more information about SRAP or to apply, visit

By Kali S. McCrackin


Thursday, December 6, 2012

CI-WATER K-12 Toolboxes will bring the science of water to Utah and Wyoming classrooms

Wyoming EPSCoR, in association with Utah EPSCoR, Utah Universities and the Natural History Museum of Utah, is part of a grant called CI-WATER. Like all EPSCoR grants, education, outreach and diversity are key elements of CI-WATER. As part of the education work, CI-WATER is aiming to bring water research and awareness to K-12 classrooms in Wyoming and Utah. This week, Wyoming EPSCoR’s Beth Cable is in Utah working on the construction of toolboxes which will do just that. 
“I see the most valuable aspect of the toolboxes is that they offer a huge variety of ideas, curriculum and tools,” says Cable. “My hope is that any individual teacher can find his or her comfort level in working with them, and take them away - for a day, a week or (hopefully) a year.”
Cable is the Education, Outreach and Diversity project director for Wyoming EPSCoR. Along with Heather Paulsen of the Natural History Museum of Utah, she has been working on these toolboxes designed to stimulate interest and thought about water. By studying local water resources and utilizing a variety of tools, students will address the effects of climate, population and land use changes on water systems.  The toolboxes are based on four main ideas which build on one another:  1. Properties of water, 2. Water in the environment, 3. Human use and impact, and 4. What do I do now?
“We designed the box to be flexible enough for teachers to use as an entire unit, building on itself to deepen and broaden understanding, but also where each lesson or tool could be used independently to explore one topic,” says Paulsen. “We also hope that it enables and inspires teachers to go outside and engage students in authentic research in their own environment. That connectedness to place is necessary for people.”
Along with field tools and reading materials, the toolboxes provide hands-on activity ideas, games and research project materials. These types of activities aim to encourage students and teachers to examine water use in their own lives, schools and communities.  From these explorations, students and teachers will be encouraged to share their discoveries and extend their interest into their communities through art and advocacy projects. Cable and Paulsen are hoping that through the toolboxes, students will become interested in, and actively engaged with, the world of water around them.
“If I can imagine anything, I imagine a classroom community of scientists studying water,” says Cable. “Activities done indoors, outdoors, individually and in groups.  I love to imagine a classroom learning and growing together, walking and reflecting along a stream, and fostering a love of science.”
In addition to the scientific content and activities, the toolboxes are prefaced with inclusive background information.  This information is designed to help teachers by bringing new resources into their classrooms and providing new avenues for scientific exploration.
“I think the most valuable aspect is being able to supply resources to teachers that they don’t have the ability to acquire because they don’t have the time, resources, or both,” says Paulsen. “I think the toolboxes provide an authentic experience for both the teacher and students, enabling a community of learners in the classroom. Also, I think that water issues are among the most important that face us as people, and are only going to become more important. Being able to help teachers raise awareness, understanding, and engagement in this topic is imperative.” 
The provided materials will not only supplement teachers with additional contextual content, but also suggested techniques for effectively implementing the toolboxes in their classroom and facilitating outdoor activities with students.  All toolbox instruction is based around an initial brainstorm of how we use water, what uses water, and how water affects the Earth.
As the initial toolboxes near completion, they will be piloted at local Utah and Wyoming K-12 schools.  Following the testing and adjusting, two toolboxes will live and be outsourced in Wyoming, and three in Utah. 
We will share more information about requesting a toolbox for classroom use as the toolboxes are completed and ready for use.

By Beth Cable and Kali S. McCrackin

Thursday, November 29, 2012

EPSCoR Undergraduate Fellow Publishes Paper and Presents at International Conference

 Richard works on the equipment that allows him to study gas hydrates
 Research, papers and presentations are all criteria graduate school applicants aim for, especially in fields like Chemical Engineering. This fall, Anthony Richard, a senior at the University of Wyoming, succeeded in completing all three goals.
Richard, originally from Louisiana, started his research in the summer of 2011 under Dr. Hertanto Adidharma in the area of gas hydrate inhibitors. Gas hydrates are similar to ice. They form when water molecules form a cage and trap a gas molecule inside. This can be dangerous in transmission pipelines moving oil or gas because gas hydrates plug up pipelines which can cause equipment failures. In his research, Richard works on developing inhibitors that will prevent the formation of methane gas hydrates. This research is a continuation of original research started by Dr. Adidharma.
“I just wanted to do research,” Richard said. “And I really wanted to work with Dr. Adidharma because he has done a lot of really good work and he’s a really great professor.”
When Richard approached Dr. Adidharma about research, he was offered the project about gas hydrate inhibitors. The only thing he needed was funding. For the summer 2011, Richard applied for the McNair scholarship and shortly after he applied for the fall 2011 EPSCoR Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Richard received both and was on his way to research, papers and presentations.
His research paper, The performance of ionic liquids and their mixtures in inhibiting methane hydrate formation, is the result of his hard work, dedication and innovation. The area of gas hydrate inhibitors is broad. There are multiple types of inhibitors which prevent gas hydrate formation in one of two ways. Either the inhibitor changes the conditions of hydrate formation (such as adding something into the process which stops the prevention of ice at a certain temperature) or the inhibitor slows down the formation process.
Richard worked with an inhibitor called ionic liquids, which prevent gas hydrate formation in both ways. Dr. Adidharma was the first to discover how ionic liquids work as inhibitors and, in his research, Richard worked on creating a synergy between different kinds of inhibitors. He mixed together different ionic liquids, mixed ionic liquids with conventional inhibitors and studied the effect of pressure on ionic liquid inhibition.
In October, Richard presented this research at the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) conference in Pittsburgh, PA. The AIChE conference is one of the biggest in the world for Chemical Engineers.
“Presenting at a big conference has been on my list for quite a while,” Richard said. And when the opportunity to present came up, he jumped on it.
Richard gave a twenty minute oral presentation at the conference, which is rare for undergraduates, who usually give poster presentations at such conferences. Richard, however, was not worried, as his experiences with EPSCoR and McNair had given him presentation practice.
“Through McNair and EPSCoR and all the research I’ve been doing, I’m getting really familiar with this material,” Richard said. “So, presenting wasn’t that big of a worry. I didn’t mind presenting at all; it was great.”
Richard will graduate from UW this coming May. His graduate school applications are in and he’s looking forward to continuing research, either in the area of gas hydrate inhibitors or beyond. 

By Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by: Kali S. McCrackin

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Faces of Science: Finding Life's Passion in Unexpected Places

  This is the fifth of a series of blogs about women in science at the University of Wyoming, as we initiate our new NSF-funded program.Throughout the year we will be blogging about women in engineering, earth sciences, biological sciences and beyond. 
Rachel with students shortly after winning the Ellbogen teaching award in 2011
Rachel Watson graduated with top honors from the University of Denver, receiving the Best Chemistry Undergraduate award. She had spent years working in a lab, gaining invaluable experience as a researcher studying metalloenzymes (proteins that function as enzymes) using electron paramagnetic resonance. She could have been accepted into almost any graduate school she wanted. The path towards becoming a bench top scientist lay before her feet, but she turned away from this opportunity and hasn’t looked back. 
“I was terrified of a life like that,” Rachel says, reflecting on the principal investigators of the lab she worked in during her undergraduate years. “Maybe partly because I couldn’t find my own personal passion in the kind of work the PIs were doing.”
Rachel found her passion while in graduate school at the University of Wyoming. Two years into her PhD, she started working with the Upward Bound and Math-Science Initiative programs in the summer, and her life took an unexpected turn.
“I had no thought that I would ever want to be a teacher until I stepped into that classroom in the summer and fell in love with it,” Rachel says. “I just knew that I would spend the rest of my life as a teacher and that I would never step out of a classroom, no matter what I was teaching.”
Rachel finished her master’s degree, but rather than continue towards her PhD, she began teaching anything and everything she could. Today, Rachel is an Academic Professional Lecturer in Molecular Biology at UW where she teaches, works on research about education and co-coaches the UW Nordic ski team.
Since her undergraduate years, Rachel has thought and written a lot about women in science and why many women do not stay in these fields. It’s one of her passions and something she carries with her in her work with students.
“There has been a lot of writing about why women don’t stay in science and I think a lot of it misses the boat,” Watson says.
The biggest problem Rachel sees is the way that science as an institution and a process, work. Both try to be incredibly objective and in doing so, the human aspect and emotional aspect of science are removed. Women, in general, need these aspects, because they look for the ways that they are impacting people’s lives; they look for the overall meaning their work has for society.
“That kind of disengagement of the human aspect from the science is really unfulfilling,” Rachel says.
In her classes, Rachel works to provide this type of engagement.
“One of the biggest parts of my job is turning people on to science, but also at the same time letting them know that there is many more than one way to be a scientist,” Watson says. “Students need to see how what they do matters in the world. If I can relate what each student loves already to microbiology then I can show them that it actually matters in their lives.”
At the University Games in Erszerum, Turkey in 2011
Athletes on the Nordic team regularly experience how science impacts their passion for skiing as Rachel talks with them about metabolism, physical activity and intellectual capacity. Science helps to explain the relationship between metabolism and physical activity, but it also shows that physical activity supports intellectual capacity to form a positive relationship.
“The two are a beautiful synergy really,” Watson says. “For me, I’m able to work out every day with no guilt about leaving my job because I’m not really leaving it. It’s all just a part of my job and I stay fit and happy too. I think that makes me a better teacher.”
On the wall in her office, Rachel has a collage of thank you cards. It’s her most prized possession and speaks to her dedication to her students.
“That is what gets me up in the morning,” Rachel says. “The students are unquestionably the best part of my job. They inspire me every day.”
At the beginning of her career, Watson was unsure of where her passions stood. Today, there is no doubt about what inspires her and energizes her. Her passions and dedication are clear in everything she does. She keeps her classrooms learner centered, to support and encourage the scientists of tomorrow.
“Always put that which matters most at the heart of all you do. There are many ways to achieve the synergy of passion and career,” Rachel advises all students.  

By Kali S. McCrackin
Photos courtesy of Rachel Watson