Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Collaboration and the CI-WATER Hydrologic Modeling Workshop

In science, collaboration takes a variety of forms through partnerships, information sharing and cooperative projects. The CI-WATER Hydrologic Modeling Workshop, held July 22-26 at the University of Wyoming (UW), tapped into all of these forms of collaboration, through the building of new partnerships, the utilization of collaboratively created modeling systems, and the application of new information into group projects.
“We had five students from JSU, one from Utah State University and three from here, at UW,” says Dr. Fred Ogden, the lead principal investigator for UW on the CI-WATER project, who facilitated the workshop.
CI-WATER is a collaborative grant between UW, Utah StateUniversity (USU), Brigham Young University (BYU) and University of Utah (UU). During the workshop, partnerships and friendship between the universities began to develop as participants learned how to use spatial hydrologic tools.
“The CI-WATER high performance computer model is still under development, so we decided to use GSSHA, which is the model I helped develop with the Army Corps of Engineers based in Vicksburg, Mississippi,” Dr. Ogden says.
GSSHA, the Gridded Surface Subsurface Hydrologic Analysis Model, is similar to the model CI-WATER is developing. Spatial hydrologic tools, like the GSSHA model, can be used to mitigate flooding and understand the impacts of changes in land use.
“We’re teaching them how to run a state of the art hydrologic model,” says Dr. Ogden.
Participants started out learning the model in small group projects.
“We started out with a little watershed,” says Sam Rhoads, a civil engineering major from JSU. “Then we added in residential land-use, industrial land-use and learned how to add different hydrologic structures so we could get a feel for everything to do with the model.”
After learning the basics of the tool, Dr. Ogden decided to introduce a bit of what he calls ‘reality’ to their projects by taking them out of the computer lab and into the field to use a rainfall simulator.
“Basically it can simulate rainfall on a plot of land,” says Sam. “From that, you can measure a lot more accurately than just taking numbers from a table. You can get actual data for the soil property, like the infiltration of the soil, the hydraulic conductivity and how the water is going to flow through the soil so you can use that in the model. That way, you get more accurate output.”
“I think the rain simulator was probably an eye opener,” says Dr. Ogden.
The field day definitely made an impression on one of the participants.
“I liked going to the field,” says Jeremiah Lewis, an industrial engineering major from JSU. Seeing water in action made a clearer connection between the workshop projects and reality.
For another participant, Ashlee Ingram, applying real data to the model and learning about the water aspect of civil engineering were invaluable.
“I like learning different aspects of civil engineering,” she says. “It is good to know different programs. It kind of puts you ahead of other people.”
For the participants in the workshop, knowing GSSHA may do just that.
“The Army Corps in Vicksburg, Mississippi are eager to interact with these students,” Dr. Ogden says. “They asked me to have the students contact them when they’re done because we’re training them on GSSHA and that’s a skill they are always looking for people to have.”
As the workshop came to a close, participants headed home not only with new skills in watershed modeling, but also with more insight into working on group projects and the value of collaboration in science.

By: Kali S. McCrackin

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Research Experience for Undergrads: How much water enters the ground?

At first glance, it’s easy to see that the students participating in the Research Experience for Undergrads at the University ofWyoming have all become good friends. Laughing and joking with each other, it’s a fun environment.
For the last month, seven students from Wyoming and one student from Utah have been writing programs to model the impact of sunlight and shade on the water infiltration into the soil in the Colorado River basin.

REU Students learning about the NCAR-Wyoming
Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne, WY
“The goal of this project is to measure the sunlight that’s coming into the Earth and we’re going to be basing that on a snowmelt model and then we’re going to calculate how much water is going into the ground, which in the long run, will let us know how much water is going into the river basin so we can model that further,” says Troy Axthelm, a computer science undergraduate student from the University of Wyoming.
To help students better understand how much water is going into the ground, the program was split into four projects. For the first project, students worked on creating a program that would allow them to measure the amount of sunlight hitting the Earth. The second project included students creating a program to figure out how much energy was needed to melt snow on the ground. For the third project, students created a program that could help them figure out how the water moved into the soil and down to the water table. Finally, students created a program to learn how heat moves into and throughout the soil.
Students participating in the REU course each gained something different, and look forward to being able to apply these new skills in their future.
Geoff Foster, a Utah State University undergraduate majoring in civil engineering is proud of the skills he has learned.

Mookwan Seo, Noll Roberts, and Dylan Sheehy learn
about how the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputer is powered.
“I used to be afraid of the computer age, but because of the REU course I now have a background in computers and I can apply it to my studies,” he says.
Noll Roberts, a molecular biology student at the University of Wyoming, learned the importance of being able to work with people with diverse backgrounds.
 “One of things that’s different about this program is that you’re working with many different types of people, so trying to learn how to bridge those gaps quicker is a really useful skill,” he says.
Jingyu Li, a student at Laramie High School learned the importance planning when it came to coding.
“I definitely learned to plan before I code,” she says. “Figure out what you’re doing by splitting up what you’re doing and figuring out the structure.”Now that students have created computer programs and models to understand how water enters the ground, the will spend the next month working on a CI-WATER project, using the knowledge they gained from the REU course.

 By Robin E. Rasmussen
 Photos by Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Danielle, Liver Damage and Cell Digestion

SRAPer: Danielle Obando

 Home State: Florida

 Year in school: Junior

 Plans after high school: Attend Stanford, studying forensic science or veterinary medicine.

For Danielle Obando, her interests in the science fields are a family affair.
“My grandpa was an engineer, so that got me into mathematics,” says Danielle. “After that, I started joining math and science competitions at school.”
Danielle’s interest in math and science led her to SRAP, where she is working with Yinan Hua, a graduate student in Dr. Sreejayan Nair’s Pharmacy lab. Along with her fellow SRAP lab mate, Esmeralda, Danielle is studying cathepsin k, an enzyme found in the lysosome of cells. The lysosome is responsible for the breakdown of waste material and cellular debris. It is believed that cathepsin k can help with the control and treatment of certain diseases, such as heart disease.
“My project studies the effect of cathepsin k on the liver, but with my project, we’re studying the effects on starved mice,” says Danielle. “We’re just seeing how autophagy is different between the wild-type mice and the starved mice.”
Autophagy is the degradation or self-digestion of a cell or cellular components. Along with understanding how autophagy effects starved and healthy mice differently, Danielle is studying how cathepsin k can be used to help restore damage in the liver.
Danielle is enjoying the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience outside of the classroom.
“I like that we’re able to use a lot of equipment we wouldn’t be able to use in our high school,” she says.
SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR. It concluded Friday, July 19th with formal presentations by Danielle and her fellow SRAPers.

By Robin E. Rasmussen

Friday, July 19, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Esmeralda and Liver Damage

SRAPer: Esmerelda Soto
From: Colorado
Year: Junior
Plans: Attend university and possibly major in communications


For most people, the differences between writing and math skills are distinct. Esmeralda Soto, however, enjoys both. Her interests in both subjects, especially writing, are coming in useful this summer during her participation in SRAP where she is not only conducting scientific research, but also writing a scientific research paper.
For her SRAP project, Esmeralda is learning about a field she’s never worked in – pharmaceutical research.
“We’re studying how cathepsin K can restore liver damage caused by aging,” says Esmeralda. “We’re trying to see if using this protein can restore that damage.”
Cathepsin K is an enzyme found in the lysosome of cells. The lysosome is responsible for the breakdown of waste material and cellular debris. It is believed that cathepsin K could help with the control and treatment of certain diseases, such as heart disease.
Esmerelda is working with Dr.Sreejayan Nair and graduate student Yinan Hua in the Pharmacy department at the University of Wyoming. She is enjoying her work, and is excited about the future impact of her research.
“I like seeing how it can help,” says Esmeralda. “Because a lot of the damage is alcohol related, if we find that cathepsin K can help restore the liver, then we can probably help a lot of people.”
Whether Esmeralda decides to pursue a degree in the STEM fields, or in communications, as she is currently thinking, she’s already ahead in the game with the skills she learned participating in the SRAP program.
SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by Robin E. Rasmussen

SRAP Student Spotlight: Marten Baur and drought research

SRAPer: Marten Baur
Home state: Wyoming
Grade in school: Senior
Plans after high school: Attend a university

Drought is a part of life that citizens of Wyoming understand completely. Because of the huge impact of drought on the Wyoming way of life, many scientists at the University of Wyoming are currently studying droughts and their effects on plants. Marten Baur, a Wyoming high school student, is one of those researchers.

Marten is working with Dr. Brent Ewers in the Botany department at the University of Wyoming for his SRAP project.

“My project helps to understand soil water potential for plants. When plants are in a drought, the soil is dried up,” says Marten. “The water potential is basically water’s ability to move to another area, such as up the plant.”
Marten is working to understand what happens when the soil doesn’t hold much water.
“As the plant is trying to draw up the water, it generates tension and that tension, if the soil is too dry, it will cause the plant to have too much tension and it will cavitate,” says Marten.
When a plant cavitates, it makes it more difficult to get water to the top of the plant.

 “So when soil is wet, it has low negative pressure which is good for the plant,” Marten says. “That means it doesn’t need as much tension to pull the water up and get it to the canopy.”
Although the research Marten is conducting must be precise, he enjoys it.

 “I like being outside, but the science parts are definitely interesting. As tedious as this is, the concepts are cool.”
The research that Marten is conducting is crucial to better understanding droughts and their effects.  His SRAP project will have a large impact on citizens all over the state of Wyoming.

SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by Robin E. Rasmussen

Thursday, July 18, 2013

SRAP Wrap-up

SRAP group trip to the Snowy Range Mountains
Six weeks ago, twenty-two high school students from around the United States arrived at the University of Wyoming to work in research labs across campus. They were part of the Summer Research Apprentice Program (SRAP) and had little prior knowledge of the field in which they would be working. Today, however, that has all changed. While they may have known little about lasers or electric cars, mutant cells or perspectives on inspiration, they are now fully informed. Tomorrow, after weeks of hard work and dedicated research, these students will present their findings to each other and their mentors at the 2013 SRAP Symposium.
“This summer has gone by so fast,” says SRAP Coordinator Lisa Abeyta. “But, in this short period of time, I have been able to witness twenty-two wonderful students transform into amazing researchers.”
The SRAP Symposium begins at 8 am with a poster session and is followed by formal presentations beginning at 9 am. All Symposium activities will take place in the Union ballrooms on the University of Wyoming campus. A full schedule and map of the Symposium can be found at:

By Kali S. McCrackin

SRAP Student Spotlights: Elena, Holden and Solar Cells

SRAPer: Elena Martinez
From: Colorado
Grade: Senior
Plans after high school: Stay in Colorado for university and study something related to math or science

SRAPer: Holden Bindl
From: Wyoming
Grade: Junior
Plans after high school: attend a university, probably UW

The stereotypical image of a scientist is an individual working in a lab, clad in a white lab coat. While Elena Martinez and Holden Bindl have worked in a lab and worn lab coats, they’ve found that being a scientist can mean working collaboratively. During their SRAP experience this summer they worked together with Dr. Jon Pikal, an electrical and computer engineer, on solar cells.
“We’re working on developing different methods of building solar cells inexpensively,” Holden says. “We are using different materials and measuring how much energy they can absorb from the light.”
A solar cell converts energy from light into electricity. Part of Holden and Elena’s project involved using lasers to study to the properties that make up a solar cell. For Elena, working with the laser was the best part.
“We’ve been shooting the laser towards this device called a monochromator,” Elena says. “What that does is separate the wavelength out so that we can detect a certain wavelength at a certain point. At first, it was kind of hard. I didn’t really know how to collect this type of data. Once I got it though, it was pretty cool.”
Using a laser offered Holden and Elena more control than trying the experiments with sunlight, because the light from the sun is so variable.

“With the laser we can control the color of the light, the amount of light, when the light is on and even the amount of time the light is on,” says Dr. Pikal.

Having this amount of control allowed for Elena and Holden to accurately test and compare different materials that could be used to build solar cells.

Prior to launching into their project and working with the laser, Holden and Elena spent their first two weeks training.
“In this type of field, there’s a lot of background knowledge that has to be gained,” Dr. Pikal says. “You don’t learn this stuff in high school.”
Elena and Holden definitely learned things they never would have in high school, such as how to use a laser. Both students received laser safety training and passed the laser safety exam.
On Friday, July 19th, they will present their research to their SRAP peers and all of the mentors for the program. SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Kali S. McCrackin

SRAP Student Spotlight: Jennifer Bieza and positive psychological outcomes of aerobic exercise

SRAPer: Jennifer Beiza
Home state: Colorado
Year in school: Junior
Plans after high school: Undecided

Jennifer Beiza enjoys critical thinking and problem solving. These skills have been an asset to her as she works in the psychology department with Dr. Ben Wilkowski, a professor in the Psychology department at the University of Wyoming. 

“My project is about the positive psychological outcomes of aerobic exercise. Usually when we think about the benefits of exercise, we think about how it affects the body.  I thought it would be interesting to see if aerobic exercise affects the mind and people’s overall well-being, instead of just their physical health, ” says Jennifer.

The idea for this project came from Jennifer herself.

“Basically, she came up with the idea,” says Sarah Crowe, a psychology graduate student working with Jennifer. “We started out by discussing different topics in psychology at a general level before delving into any one area in great detail.  It took a bit of trial and error at first, but she seemed to be especially interested in both biological psychology and research on well-being. After looking through the previous research on these topics, we noticed that there were still a lot of unanswered questions and unresolved issues in the literature. Jennifer wanted to address some of these in her own study and that’s where she came up with the idea for her research proposal. “

Jennifer is enjoying her research, and she’s excited about investigating how the two parts of her study correlate.

“I think it’s really interesting that there’s a connection between mental processes and physical activity.” says Jennifer.

Jennifer’s SRAP project involves writing a proposal for a future experiment. If Jennifer decides to participate in SRAP again next year, she hopes to be able to continue working on her research.

“She’s doing a really great job,” says Sarah.
Jennifer will be presenting her research and findings on Friday, July 19th at the University of Wyoming Union along with the other SRAP particpants.
SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.
By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by Robin E. Rasmussen

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Hailey Molden and Inspiration

SRAPer: Hailey Molden
From: Nevada
Year in School: Senior
Plans after high school: go to college, probably in california

Hailey Molden is always looking for a challenge. That’s part of the reason her favorite subject in school is science.

“Math was pretty easy for me, so I like chemistry,” Hailey says. “I don’t really like English. I like math and science, but math isn’t that hard for me so I like science the best.”

This summer, however, Hailey’s love of chemistry is being challenged by a new scientific love: psychology. She has spent the summer working with Dr.David Estes, a developmental psychologist at the University of Wyoming, and psychology graduate student Alisa Estey during her time as a SRAPer.
“My project is on inspiration,” says Hailey. “There’s not really much on it, so we’re kind of the stepping stone to that. We’re focusing on the layperson’s perspective of inspiration.”
To understand and study this perspective, Hailey is using three items from a preliminary questionnaire.
“We have a questionnaire that we gave to undergraduate students in a psychology class,” Hailey says. “There were three different questions: What is your definition of inspiration? What is a specific time you were inspired? Name two people who inspire you.”
After gathering the data, Hailey analyzed and coded the responses. For many researchers, this is the most tedious part of a study, but Hailey doesn’t agree.
“I like entering data,” she says. “It is kind of weird, but it is my favorite part.”
As Hailey finishes SRAP and prepares for her final year of high school, she is looking ahead to college and what she will study. Six weeks ago, she would have said chemistry would be her major at a university, but now she is not so sure.
“My favorite subject was chemistry, but now I’m leaning towards psychology,” Hailey says. “My mentors, Alisa Estey and David Estes, are really getting me into it.”
On Friday, Hailey will present her research at the SRAP poster session and then a presentation will follow.
SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.
By Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by Robin E. Rasmussen

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Danny Tran and soil water potential

SRAPer: Danny Tran

Home state: Colorado

Year in School: Junior

Plans after high school: Go to a university, possibly studying medicine

Understanding how plants receive and use water is critical for the future of forest health and development. Danny Tran is working to add to this body of knowledge.

“I’m working on soil water potential,” says Danny. “And I’m also working on the hydraulic system for the cavitation of xylems.”

The xylem is the part of a plant that moves water and nutrients from the root to the rest of the plant.

“The cavitations of xylems happen when the tissue in the xylem burst, because of air bubbles,” says Danny. “That’s not good for the plant.” 

Danny is working with Dr. Brent Ewers in the Botany department. The research that Danny is conducting is crucial to understanding the relationship between soil and water in plants.

“With the hydraulics, you spin a centrifuge and you see the pull of the water column,” says Dr. Ewers. “If you pull too much, it breaks. The soil measurements tell us how much the soil pulls on the water column, so then we could see how dry it is out at the field and how much that is causing plants to cavitate the field.”

For Danny, getting into the field to collect samples to study is one of the most interesting parts of his research project. 

“I like going into the field and collecting samples, but I think the machines we use are actually pretty interesting,” says Danny.

“We use this machine, the WP4, to see the soil water. Then, we take a lot of measurements, like temperature and the MPa.” says Danny.

“The WP4 is an instrument that measures the water potential of a porous medium like soil,” says Dr. Ewers. “The principle is that the humidity in a small chamber equilibrates with the water potential, or how hard the soil pulls on the water, in the sample. The chamber is cooled down until water condenses on a mirror inside the chamber. The point of condensation is equal to the water potential of the soil. Thus, measurements of temperature are used to calculate the suction of water in the soil in units of MPa.”

“I didn’t believe they could make a machine that could do its job like this one,” Danny says.  “And since it’s also a homemade hydraulic system, I think that’s pretty cool.”

SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by Robin E. Rasmussen