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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

SACNAS and AISES conferences give inspiration to students and EPSCoR alike

Participants took a day trip to Matanuska Glacier during AISES.
Increasing diversity in the science fields is one of WyomingEPSCoR’s goals when it comes to outreach and education. Minority populations and women have traditionally been underrepresented in the science fields but this is beginning to change. Organizations such as the Society for Advancement of Chicano and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) work to empower minority students in the science fields through networking, funding and programs to help break down the barriers.
This fall Wyoming EPSCoR accompanied groups of students to both the SACNAS conference in Seattle, Washington October 11th-14th and the AISES conference in Anchorage, Alaska October 30th-November 4th. These conferences left a big impression on both the students and EPSCoR.
“It was inspiring to see how motivated and excited the students were at both conferences,” says Beth Cable, Education, Outreach and Diversity Project Coordinator for Wyoming EPSCoR. “In my opinion, the students really went above and beyond what I imagined in terms of networking, interviewing, learning and gleaning information from the break-out sessions. I was extremely pleased.”
SACNAS was founded in 1973 by a small group of Native American and Chicano scientists who were concerned about the lack of minority students in the science fields. Since then, SACNAS has grown to 25,000 members and continues to support Chicano and Native American students and professionals in attaining advanced degrees, careers and positions.
Four upperclassmen from the University of Wyoming attended the SACNAS conference where they joined a diversity of students from minority populations.  The conference focused on how it has expanded since 1973 and how SACNAS is helping students pursue professions in the sciences. For UW’s students, the conference provided a platform for exploring graduate schools, career options and new areas of interest.
“The students at SACNAS were very inspired and dedicated to finding out as much information as they possibly could,” says Lisa Abeyta, Student Research Programs Coordinator for Wyoming EPSCoR. “They attended the breakout sessions that would most benefit their future. We would regroup at the end of each day and they all had more ideas of what they would like to do in the future or where they wanted to attend graduate school.”
During the conference, students had the opportunity to meet and talk with professors and professionals, which they used to make connections and start networking.
“What I was most intrigued by is that the students were not intimidated to talk to professors, other professionals or even the executive director of SACNAS,” Abeyta says.
The conference provided a positive atmosphere that promoted empowerment, productivity and enthusiasm. UW’s students returned to campus rejuvenate and reenergized about their fields and futures.
A few weeks later, Wyoming EPSCoR geared up for the AISES conference in Anchorage. AISES was founded in 1977 and aims to increase the number of Native American and Alaskan Native students in the STEM fields. Its programs are designed for pre-college students, college students and professionals so as to support individuals throughout their scientific careers.
Three students from UW and three students from the WindRiver Indian Reservation attended the conference designed primarily for Native American and Alaska Native students. Like the SACNAS conference, the AISES conference provided students with a venue for exploring their options and networking.
 “What stands out to me most about the conferences is the indigenous people working so hard to better themselves, their tribe and their communities,” Cable says. “They expressed such kindness and love for their research and science, for each other and also for all of us who participated in the conference.  It was a gentle, very encouraging, environment.”
The connections made, the new options to consider and the support structures offered at the conference gave these six students new tools to use in pursuing their education and careers as scientists. It was a success all the way around, including for Wyoming EPSCoR and its programs.
“The conferences fit hugely into EPSCoR’s goals for diversity, outreach and education,” says Cable. “Both of our grants aim to collaborate with the Wind River Indian Reservation and minority populations. I was presented with so much positive, inspiring information, and now it is just finding the time and the means to really dig in and start implementing some of this.”

By Kali S. McCrackin 
Photo courtesy of Beth Cable

Thursday, November 1, 2012

CI-WATER and the Supercomputer

The Colorado River Basin
The Colorado River Basin is a magnificent water system that stretches from Wyoming all the way to California. It touches seven states in the western US, including huge expanses of Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Almost 30 million people depend on and use the Basin for water. Headwater states, like Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, have to ensure that Lower Basin States receive their obligated water allotment, as described in the 1922 Colorado River Basin Compact. The problem is, western states are experiencing expanding populations with increasing demand for urban and agricultural water use. Population expansion in the Upper Basin States will not only add to the strain on the Basin’s water resources, it may also strain inter-state relationships as it becomes harder for them to meet the water obligations to Lower Basin States described in the Compact. Fortunately for the west, researchers are already looking at these issues, and they’re doing so with the help of the NSF EPSCoR grant called CI-Water.
The CI-Water grant is a three year award shared between the University of Wyoming, Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah State University. Together, the four universities, among other projects, are working to address and avert the problems looming for the Colorado River Basin by mapping, modeling and creating the tools to better understand the Basin. Dr. Fred Ogden and Dr. Craig Douglas of UW are taking the lead on mapping and modeling the Basin.
NWSC off of I-80 west of Cheyenne, WY.
Mapping and modeling require significant computer power and memory. Most computers however, do not allow for the resolution and accuracy that Dr. Ogden and Dr. Douglas are looking for in their models. In order to achieve the scale they’re looking for, they need a supercomputer that can perform calculations at fast speeds, render data into models and provide a resolution vastly higher than what is currently available. It just so happens that Wyoming has such a computer, as of October 15th, 2012.
For seven years, Wyoming and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), with support from the National Science Foundation, have been planning and working towards building a supercomputing facility. This month, the years of planning and work came to an end with the opening of the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC). The $74 million center houses the $30 million supercomputer, Yellowstone, which Dr. Ogden and Dr. Craig will use to model the Colorado River Basin.
Yellowstone is ranked in the top 25 list of fastest computers on Earth. It can perform 15 quadrillion (that is, 15,000,000,000,000,000) basic calculations per second. This is equivalent to everyone on the planet conducting 200,000 calculations per second simultaneously. Yellowstone can also store 11 petabytes of data, which is approximately equal to the total amount of data stored at the Library of Congress. This supercomputer opens the doors of opportunity for Wyoming researchers by giving them a tool that they have not previously had access to. It will put them on the cutting edge of science, especially regarding the environment.
Yellowstone, the supercomputer housed at NWSC.
For Dr. Ogden and Dr. Douglas, Yellowstone’s ability to synthesize large, varied data sets in a relatively short amount of time and produce accurate, usable models of the real world make all the difference in the world for their research. These models will be more complex and at a resolution 100 times higher than models produced on regular computers, which means that they will help inform policies and management decisions with more accuracy than before. The models produced by Yellowstone will be used by CI-Water to understand how population changes and water management are impacting the basin, what that means for the future of water in the west, and how we can begin planning, so that twenty years from now there is still enough water for everyone. These models and data will be an important part of the second annual CI-Water Symposium as the four universities look towards sharing information with stakeholders and decision makers, so that better plans for the future are possible.
For more information about water in the west and UW’s research in this area, visit
For more information about Yellowstone, NWSC and a virtual tour, visit and Or, visit for more in-depth stories about the Yellowstone supercomputer, NWSC and UW researchers.
NWSC also has a visitor center with hands-on displays and activities, which is open from 8-5 Monday through Friday and 8-4 on Saturday. The center is located 5 miles west of Cheyenne, WY off of I-80.

By Kali S. McCrackin
Photos courtesy of, the University of Wyoming, UCAR