Friday, October 31, 2014

On Halloween, a little science goes a long way

Halloween doesn’t need to be all about ghouls and goblins. In fact, it can be all about science. Here are 3 tricks to make this Halloween a science treat:

Put dry ice on center stage
            Dry ice is actually frozen carbon dioxide, which makes it an extra fun tool for special Halloween effects. As it melts, it immediately turns to CO2 vapor. Use this trick to make your jack o lantern ooze white smoke, or to carbonate a bowl of punch.
1)    Place a cup of warm water inside your jack o lantern. Using tongs or gloves, drop a piece of dry ice in the water and stand back as the vapor pours out of the pumpkin’s mouth.
2)    Drop a few pieces of dry ice into a bowl of punch. The punch will bubble and gurgle until the ice is gone, leaving behind a carbonated drink.

Photo courtesy of

Make your own lava lamp
            Supplies:         1 bottle vegetable oil
                                    Alka Seltzer
                                    A plastic or glass jar, with lid
Use the polar properties of oil and water to make a quick and easy lava lamp. Fill the jar ¼ full with water. Fill the rest with oil. Add a few drops of food coloring and then toss in half a tab of Alka Selzter. The colored water will form droplets as the Alka Seltzer pushes them into the vegetable oil. These droplets will bounce up and down in the oil while the Alka Seltzer works its magic.

Make your Jack o Lantern glow like a rainbow
            Supplies:         hand sanitizer
                                    Boric acid (or Borax, both available at hardware stores)
                                    1 carved pumpkin

Rub the hand sanitizer on the outside and inside of the carved pumpkin, and then dust with the boric acid or Borax.

Place the pumpkin on a fire-safe surface and then light it with a match. A rainbow of colors will dance across the pumpkin’s surface. Here’s why:

The alcohol in the hand sanitizer turns the flame blue. The boric acid makes it green. Sodium in the pumpkin flesh tints it yellow, and the hollowed out pumpkin glows orange. Wa-la! Rainbow flaming jack o lantern.

The flame will die out fast, thanks to the alcohol.

By Manasseh Franklin


Friday, October 24, 2014

Make a plan for midterm success

Midterms are a notoriously stressful time in students’ lives but it doesn’t need to be that way. A little bit of planning and prep can move your midterms from stress-fest to success. Here are 4 tips to make the test times just a little easier:

1)    Take a minute to strategize
Like any big endeavor in life, a little bit of planning for midterms goes a long way. It’s easy to look at your to-do list and want to bury your head in a pillow, but one small activity could change your whole outlook. Make a plan. A few weeks before exam time, outline what topics you will study when so that you don’t end up trying to cram everything in during that week when you have four major tests.

2)    Take heed of basic needs
Sure, you can’t study while you’re sleeping, but it’s much harder to study if you haven’t slept. As you make your plan, be sure to include time to rest, eat regular meals, and exercise. By taking care of your basic needs, you’ll give your brain the nourishment it needs to focus on that study guide in front of you.

3)    Grab a friend
The French essayist Joseph Joubert once said, “to teach is to learn twice over.” There is nothing quite like having to explain something to someone to illustrate how well you know or don’t know material. Find a fellow classmate and set up study sessions. Not only will it help you to relay and solidify information you know, but it may also help you clear up questions that are raised along the way.

4)    Small rewards go a long way
All work and no play is a tough rhythm to maintain, particularly while under pressure. Just spent an hour working on a tricky math problem? Reward yourself with a walk outside or phone chat with a friend. Rewards not only give you something to look forward to, but can also give your brain the break it needs to maintain optimal productivity.

By Manasseh Franklin

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rock drilling leads WyCEHG scientists to groundwater

Not far from the Blair-Wallis picnic area in Vedauwoo near Laramie,Wyoming, literal breakthroughs in science are underway. A drill rig standing several stories tall and manned by four men wearing hard hats is moving, slowly. The drill is cutting through granite and pulling out long cylindrical core samples that offer UW’s Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG) researchers unlikely clues about ground water in Wyoming.
The drilling began on October 7th and will continue until four boreholes extending to depths of 262 feet are dug in the Blair-Wallis area. Once these core samples are gathered, the drill crew will move to the Red Buttes area south of Laramie. Researchers hope the Red Buttes area cores will extend to over 900 feet.
Drilling began on October 7th at Blair-Wallis.
Photo Credit: Brady Flinchum

"Understanding groundwater in mountain regions is crucial so that we can estimate how much water will be available for use downstream," says Brady Flinchum, a geophysics graduate student and WyCEHG member at UW. But groundwater can be a tough thing to measure, particularly in the Laramie Range.

“As it turns out, the granite rock type in the Laramie Range makes it extra difficult to quantify groundwater because groundwater flow is concentrated into small fracture zones,” says Flinchum. Information gathered from these boreholes will allow WyCEHG geophysicists to “measure the properties that control the groundwater flow and storage in the subsurface and to determine the source of groundwater. We will be extracting water samples from different depths and using geochemistry to see if the water in the subsurface is the same as the rain water or stream water.”

According to Dr. Steve Holbrook, this project is a hugely important for WyCEHG. “A primary focus of our work is using geophysical imaging methods to infer subsurface material properties, including hydrological properties like porosity and fracturing. With the geophysical methods we can cover a lot of ground quickly, but to have confidence in our interpretations, we need to have some ground-truth data to calibrate our geophysical images against. 

"The drill holes currently being drilled in the Laramie Range will give us that ground truth and enable us to extrapolate known subsurface properties over the larger landscape."

Granite core offers clues into groundwater movement
Photo credit: Brady Flinchum

Holbrook has been working on getting the project in place for two years. He credits the support and cooperation of colleagues at the U.S. Forest Service in getting it off the ground.

Flinchum agrees with Holbrook on the significance of the drilling. “Scientists using geochemistry can learn about the source of the deep ground water from our samples, which is all part of the story of how water travels from the high mountains to the oceans.”


By Manasseh Franklin

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

WyCEHG Collaboration leads to deeper understanding of water transport and storage

On September 30th, California-based hydrologist and geomorphologist Daniella Rempe spoke at a Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG) meeting to share her study findings related to water storage and movement. Rempe, a University of California Berkeley PhD candidate in Department of Earth and Planetary Science, came to communicate her research but also to discuss the ways WyCEHG is helping to further that research.

“WyCEHG significantly impacts my research by providing me with the means to image the fresh bedrock-weathered bedrock boundary that defines the base of the ‘critical zone.’” says Rempe. She further describes the ‘critical zone’ as “a boundary that controls many processes that influence how water and weathered rock are distributed across a landscape.”

Daniella (Center) with Professor Steve Holbrook (Right) 
and Professor Bill Dietrich of UC Berkeley (Left) 
discussing hypotheses about the planned 
geophysical survey locations.  Photo Credit: Alex Bryk 
The WyCEHG and Rempe collaboration began this past summer when Dr. Steve Holbrook and a crew of WyCEHG members joined Rempe and researchers from UC Berkeley at the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory in the Angelo Coast Range Research in Mendocino County, California. The WyCEHG crew used a variety of imaging techniques to image the boundary between weathered and fresh bedrock under hillslopes studied by the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory researchers.

Rempe is excited about the future of her research now that her relationship with WyCEHG has been established. “Collaboration with WyCEHG researchers will allow us to collect key data needed to test and constrain models that describe the evolution of the critical zone under landscapes.”

 She’s also enthusiastic about the ways in which collaborative science can have a broader impact on society as a whole. “Advances in our understanding of the complex interactions between rock, soil, water, air and biota are expected to significantly impact how we view our changing planet and ultimately lead to better informed environmental policy decisions.”

In addition to presenting at the WyCEHG All-Hands meeting, Rempe met with WyCEHG faculty and students to discuss future collaborations, including drafting manuscripts with Steve Holbrook on the WyCEHG field work at the Eel River.

By Manasseh Franklin

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wyoming EPSCoR welcomes new director

Dr. Brent Ewers with
Summer Research Apprenticeship
Program students Virgil Morrison (left)
and Sarah Fanning (right).
When asked what will be the biggest life change in accepting the position as EPSCoR Director, Dr. Brent Ewers responded: not teaching LIFE 1010. Ewers has been teaching the General Biology course since he came to the University of Wyoming 12 years ago.

“Normally I would’ve done my first lecture a few hours ago so it seems a little strange,” he says about not teaching during the fall semester. LIFE 1010 aside, Brent is thrilled to take on his new position at EPSCoR.

A father of two sons and husband to Samantha Ewers, who is the Research Database Manager for the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG), Brent is joining EPSCoR from the Botany Department. His main focus is Plant Physiological Ecology, a field that has played an integral part in EPSCoR over the past several years by way of WyCEHG and Summer Research Apprentice Program (SRAP). After being engaged in these programs as a scientist, he’s excited to work with them from the director’s chair.

“One thing I’ve really enjoyed as a scientist in WyCEHG is that I’ve had interactions with the EPSCoR staff,” says Ewers. “I’m very excited to learn a lot more from experts in education outreach and diversity.”

He is stepping into the role formerly held by Dr. Anne Sylvester, who took the EPSCoR Director position in 2011. It was under her leadership that the current Track-1 Grant came to be at Wyoming EPSCoR. Sylvester’s research focus is in maize development and genomics and, fittingly, she is moving on to a position as Program Director of the Plant Genome Research Program at the National Science Foundation.

Although she’s excited for her new opportunity, she’s proud of the progress EPSCoR has made and excited for the path it will follow in the future.

Dr. Anne Sylvester
“Working with EPSCoR has been an incredible experience,” she says. “NSF EPSCoR really focuses on collaborative, interdisciplinary research, hence the project that was developed is one that brings three different disciplines together to make something new…Watching that interdisciplinarity develop was kind of like a snowball rolling downhill. Once it starts, you see people changing, you see the science changing."

And she’s happy to pass the baton to Ewers. “The goal is to have EPSCoR impact the state of Wyoming. I think it’s been pretty successful so far. With Brent taking over, it’s just going to skyrocket.”

Brent is also excited about what the future holds for EPSCoR, particularly as he and his staff look toward the next grant a few years down the road. “There’s a really strong history of EPSCoR supporting programs that then have impacts for decades afterwards. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that and seeing what new programs can come out of it.”

By Manasseh Franklin