2008-2009 Boise State GK-12 Fellows

Ashley Masterson, Department of Biology

My research involves two intertwined areas of immunology. The first project investigates the contribution of decreasing air quality conditions in the Treasure Valley and Northwest in regards to respiratory health. Due to local topography and weather patterns, heavy air settles in the valley causing air stagnation and contaminant accumulation. By studying interactions between air particulate matter and immune cells, our data provide evidence that airborne contaminants may contribute to immune system activation. These findings are of importance given the fact that activated immune cells are known to play a role in the pathogenesis of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

The second area of research is examining the molecular and cellular mechanisms that control immune cell response in asthma and contribute to disease progression and worsening of symptoms. This research is of importance as asthma is now considered to have reached epidemic proportions, especially in urban and industrial locations, and rates continue to climb. This rise is associated with an increased frequency and severity of asthma episodes, which contribute to mounting costs and health care burden. In addition, epidemiological studies have linked common asthma medications (β-adrenergic agonists) with increasing frequency and severity of symptoms in a subset of patients. By understanding the mechanisms controlling inflammatory response in asthma, improved medications can be developed which would increase drug efficacy and lower adverse drug side effects. Collectively, the findings from our laboratory may provide crucial insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying the dynamic relationship between air quality, inflammation, and respiratory disease.



Katie McVey, Department of Biology

My research looks at the effect on ecosystems of introduction of irrigated agriculture into arid lands using burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) as focal species. I will focus on food habits and look for differences in trophic relationships and food webs between animal communities in agricultural and more natural settings. Samples from both habitat types will be collected from the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and will be analyzed using stable isotopes. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes are used to determine trophic levels and depict food webs. This study will yield important information concerning environmental effects the introduction of irrigated agriculture into arid lands may have on animal communities.




Kyle Tumpane, Department of Geosciences

I am studying the rocks of the Blue Mountains region of eastern Oregon and western Idaho. These rocks are believed to have been part of volcanic island arcs similar to the Aleutian Islands. These volcanic islands were located in the ocean somewhere to the west of the coast of North America at the time, which was at about the western Idaho border. All of the land to the west has been adding to the continent since about 200 million years ago, partly due to these island arcs colliding with the continent and being incorporated into it. I will be focusing specifically on one of the island arcs called the Olds Ferry terrane. There are still a number of things about the Olds Ferry terrane that are not well understood. The first is how long it was volcanically active. A second question is how close to North America was it during the time it was active. Was it just offshore or was it halfway across the ocean? A third major question is how the Olds Ferry terrane relates to the other island arc and other rocks of the Blue Mountains. I will be attempting to answer the question of timing of volcanic activity through radiometric age dating and trying to determine how close the arc was to North America by analyzing isotopes of specific elements such as strontium which can help determine how close volcanic activity was to a continent.



Toni Smith, Department of Geosciences

I am a Master’s student finishing my first academic year at BSU in the Hydrologic Sciences Department. My thesis research intends to demonstrate a relationship between seasonal trends in soil moisture and geomorphic characteristics such as slope aspect and elevation in a semiarid environment. A greater goal of the research is to provide support for the hypothesis that soil moisture acts as an important control on soil carbon storage in semiarid watersheds. The soil carbon aspect of the project corresponds to the research objectives of several other students working with my advisor, Dr. Shawn Benner, to understand the carbon balance in the local Dry Creek Experimental Watershed (DCEW). Dr. Benner’s research group is a branch of the cooperative DCEW Hydrologic Research Group, which includes students and faculty from the Geosciences, Mathematics, and Engineering Departments.