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

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