2009-2010 Boise State GK-12 Fellows

Brian Anderson, Department of Geosciences

I am a Master's student in the Hydrologic Sciences program at Boise State. As a hydrologist I am interested in how water moves through the landscape, from precipitation to stream flow to groundwater and all forms in between. My research focuses on the role of snow in the hydrologic cycle. I am conducting a field investigation and data analysis of the snow cover regime in the Dry Creek Experimental Watershed just north of Boise, Idaho. Specifically, I intend to gain a better understanding of the sources of snow water equivalent (SWE) spatial variability in mid-elevation, semi-arid mountainous terrain where snow cover is typically shallow and precipitation type (rain or snow) may be highly affected by climate warming. Accurate modeling of SWE is important for hydrologic forecasting and understanding surface and climate processes. However, snow distribution is often highly variable at spatial scales much smaller than those employed by hydrologic models. I am evaluating the National Weather Service’s NOHRSC Snow Model (NSM) SWE predictions in this environment by comparison of ground-truth snowpack observations via snow surveys and comparative snow accumulation and melt modeling. The goal will be to asses the sources of snow cover variability and to quantify the relative importance of physical processes responsible for variable snow distribution relative to NSM mean snow distribution. This work is part of a larger effort with local universities and governmental agencies to understand the overall hydrology in the Boise River and Lower Snake river Basins. More info about Dry Creek can be found at http://earth.boisestate.edu/boisefront/

 

 

Danielle Clay, Department of Biology

My research focuses on exploring the putative hybridization in a rare endemic paintbrush (Castilleja christii). Castilleja christii is exclusive to the summit of Mt. Harrison, Idaho and co-occurs with several other species of paintbrush: C. miniata, C. linariifolia and C. pallescence. Field observations of morphologically intermediate putative hybrids between C. christii and other congeneric species have led us to explore putative hybridization events within the population of C. christii, which to date have not been explored scientifically. Because hybrids may possess characters novel to those of parental species, molecular techniques are employed in addition to morphological comparisons, as a means of identifying natural hybridization with more confidence. This has important implications for the conservation of this rare species, as hybridization events could negatively impact the genetic identity of C. christii.

 

 

Brian Deis, Department of Biology

My research is part of a larger project that includes scientists from Idaho State University, The University of Idaho, Boise State University and the Idaho National Lab. Collectively we are investigating ways to use microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi to make lignocellulosic ethanol as a bio-fuel affordable and practical in Idaho. Lignocellulose is the structural part of the plant that isn’t considered food. Several types of microbes secrete a suite of enzymes called cellulase that can convert this plant matter into sugar. Many of these organisms can be found in the Boise River and even in your own backyard. Traditional “1st generation” ethanol is made from the same sugar and starch based crops that are crucial to our food supply. Not only are these crops expensive but the increased demand for these comdities bring into question several moral issues such as food vs. fuel and land use issues. Waste streams from the agricultural, paper and forestry products industries, as well as fast growing grasses, that could be used as a source for “2nd generation” lignocellulosic ethanol. Just think of all the plant waste we collect in our community every fall when we rake the leaves in our yards.

Humans are very good at making bio-ethanol. We have been making and enjoying it in the form of wine and beer for more than 10,000 years. Sumerian beer recipes have actually been found carved into stone tablets. Enzymatic conversion of lignocellulose to ethanol, however, has yet to be proven on a commercial scale. Current strategies include a pretreatment step to make this recalcitrant material more susceptible to the cellulase enzymes. A portion of this bio-mass is sent to a tank that is used to grow the microorganisms that produce the enzymes. The rest is sent to a tank that contains a yeast culture for fermentation. Both enzymes and the yeast are added to the fermentation tank at the same time, where sugar conversion and fermentation occur simultaneously. This arduous process can tie up the fermentation vessels for an extended amount of time. Additionally, it is very expensive to create the enzymes needed for this process. I am investigating strategies to make this process more affordable and efficient. I am currently using gel beads made from seaweed to encapsulate cellulase producing organisms. This encapsulation method could help improve the process in several ways. First, these beads may help control the growth of microbes so that more of the organism’s energy is devoted to producing enzymes instead of reproducing. Small amounts of molecules that promote enzyme production could be added to the beads to create greater quantities of cellulase. Lastly, these beads are large enough that they could be easily handled and recycled allowing us to streamline or simplify the conversion process.

 

 

Emily Hinz, Department of Geosciences

Geophysicsts apply physics to imaging the Earth, and so we get to learn a little about almost every science. For my Ph.D. research, I get to learn about hydrology, geology, physics, chemistry, math, electrical engineering, and computer programming. Specifically, I am researching how to use conductivity to image physical properties of aquifers and the groundwater that flows in them using ground-penetrating-radar (GPR) and electroseismic (ES) conversion.

GPR uses radar that is pointed into the ground. The radar energy is sensitive to conductivity, and increasing the conductivity increases the attenuation (the amount of signal that is lost to the Earth and not returned) of the signal. By injecting salt water into the ground, I can increase the conductivity of the ground, and I can track where the salt water is and how it changes in time by following where the signal is weaker. ES conversion is a method that looks at how different materials and fluids convert electrical to acoustic energy. This topic is very new and my goal is to simply find a technique for recoding the ES conversion and then successfully record some converted energy at an aquifer and in a lab. Because the two methods are so new, there is no software yet made to look at the data, and consequently my research involves a lot of computer programming in order to make models and process the real data.

 

 

Jessica Sousa, Department of Geosciences

My name is Jessica Sousa and I am a Geoscience graduate student at Boise State University. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Science from Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. My current research is focused on measuring the rate of garnet growth through 87Sr zoning within single garnet crystals. This research will have implications for the rates of metamorphism for several different tectonic settings. I was born and raised in southeast Massachusetts and am very much an east coaster. However, being an outdoor enthusiast makes living in Boise very easy. When I graduate with my M.S. in Geoscience my goal is goal is to obtain a field oriented job preferably in the environmental field. However I am also considering the option to continue to the doctorate level.

 

 

 

Amy Ulappa, Department of Biology

I am in my second year as a graduate student in the department of Biological Sciences working towards a Master’s of Science. For my thesis research I investigate factors involved in diet selection for sage grouse and pygmy rabbits during the winter. Winter is a critical season for these two sage brush steppe inhabitants. They both eat 100% sage brush during this time and it is important they eat the highest quality shrubs available. I use field techniques to locate foraging animals in the wild and collect samples of the shrubs they are and are not eating. Then I use lab assays and chemical analysis to determine the plant characteristics that are driving selection of certain plants over others. The goal of my research is to understand the nutritional characteristics of sagebrush that sage grouse and pygmy rabbits select in the wild to provide a tool for management of these animals and the sagebrush steppe habitat.