Research experience for undergraduates
Research Experience for Undergraduates in Environmental Sciences: Place Based Research and Training in Environmental Biology on the Colorado Plateau is an intensive 10-week research experience that take place each summer and is designed to introduce students to the world of scientific research. This Northern Arizona University (NAU) program is funded by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.
Students are selected for the program on the basis of the following criteria: satisfactory performance in at least one science course, lack of access to research opportunities, attendance at a Tribal or community college, interest in pursuing a scientific career, alignment of student and mentor interests, match with program goals, and overall academic performance and potential.
The program begins with a weeklong course on the conduct of research in environmental sciences at the Merriam Powell Research Station, which is housed on the grounds of The Arboretum at Flagstaff. The arboretum is 5 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona, and surrounded by ponderosa pine forest.
Following this experience, students are ready to return to the NAU campus and spend nine weeks working with a faculty or graduate student mentor on an independent research project matching their interests.
The on-campus portion of the program includes: (1) seminars on career options, research skills development, and Native American and western science perspectives; (2) individual consultation on research paper and poster presentation development; and (3) social activities.
The program offers (1) a $525 per week stipend, (2) partial food and travel reimbursements, and (3) housing.
Field work at The Arboretum of Flagstaff Accordion Closed
During the first week of the program, participants conduct field work at The Arboretum at Flagstaff designed to give them hands-on experience conducting a scientific investigation. As a group, participants will develop hypotheses, design experiments, collect data, and report results. Although this field work experience may not directly relate to a participant’s individual research project, it serves as a “training ground” for the rigors of developing a hypothesis, gathering data, and communicating results.
Research experience Accordion Closed
During the final nine weeks of the program, participants have the opportunity to gain research experience. This portion of the program blends learning science and developing job skills. Participants will work under the guidance of a faculty mentor and experienced students. The goal is to expose program participants to the rigors of working in a research group in a format that teaches them the skills they will need to succeed. The daily schedule depends on the type of research project the student selects and may range from making observations using a microscope or mapping trees outdoors to analyzing data or writing up research results.
Tuesday evening class meetings Accordion Closed
The program includes a Tuesday evening class that primarily focuses on communicating research results. Participants will be given weekly writing assignments designed to help them develop their science writing skills. The class will focus on individual sections of a standard science paper beginning with the “Introduction” and moving through the “Methods,” “Results,” and “Discussion” sections. During the final two weeks of class, participants will learn the key elements required to create a good scientific research poster, including design, readability, and research content. Finally, guest speakers will talk about career options, scholarship opportunities, and graduate and undergraduate research.
Mentors & projects
Matthew Bowker, Forestry Accordion Closed
The dry places of the world have a living “skin” which protects the soil surface, a biological soil crust (biocrust) composed of cyanobacteria, mosses, lichens and other organisms. Unfortunately, this type of community is easily lost due to human disturbance. Our lab is actively researching methods to culture the organisms that compose biocrusts so that they may be used to restore disturbed ecosystems. We measure their photosynthetic efficiency, fixation of nitrogen, and aggregation of soil. We have been able to grow many biocrust components in a greenhouse setting, much faster than they would regrow in nature. We are also beginning to test methods for reintroduction of our greenhouse-cultured biocrusts to the field, and monitor their contributions to ecosystem function. Our study sites include the Great Basin, Chihuahuan Desert, Colorado Plateau, and grasslands of Montana.
Neil Cobb, Biology Accordion Closed
Much of Dr. Cobb’s research focuses on two areas of investigation. His first are of interest is conceptually based on arthropod biodiversity, examining the responsiveness of arthropod communities to habitat change (e.g., drought, fire, grazing), and targets national parks as field sites. This body of research is conducted through the Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity, which also conducts some population-level studies on insects. Dr. Cobb’s second area of interest involves addressing a variety of ecological questions that can be answered using GIS and remote sensing. This research can include a variety of different types of plants and animals. This work is conducted through the he Geospatial Research and Information Laboratory.
Catherine Gehring, Biology Accordion Closed
The goal of my research program is to better understand the functioning of fungi in natural and managed systems. One way that members of my lab group and I work towards this goal is to examine how abiotic and biotic factors interact to affect the abundance and community composition of plant-associated fungi and how changes in these parameters then feedback to affect the performance of host plants. We combine field and laboratory experiments with microscopic and molecular analysis of fungal communities. Current projects explore how host plant genetics influences fungal abundance and diversity, the impact of climate change on interactions between host plants, fungi and insects, and the belowground mechanisms by which invasive plants may harm native plants. We also have an interest in tropical systems where we have examined interactions among vertebrates, plants and mycorrhizal fungi in addition to other issues.
Liza Holeski, Biology Accordion Closed
Dr. Holeski is a plant evolutionary geneticist and ecologist. Her research focuses on plant-herbivore interactions and plant adaptation to climate change. REU students will study the mechanisms underlying phenotypic adaptation to particular environments. Study species include herbaceous plants (monkeyflowers) and woody plants (Populus). Students will investigate the relative roles that genetic variation, environmental variation, and epigenetic modifications (changes in phenotype that are mediated by mechanisms other than alterations in the DNA sequence) play in adaptation to insect herbivory or to climate change.
Paul Gremillion, Civil and Environmental Engineering Accordion Closed
Dr. Gremillion’s research examines human impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Recent research investigates linkages between mercury loading to reservoirs and wildfires in their watersheds. It is suspected that mercury becomes stored in plant and soil material in watersheds, is then released by wildfires,and finally makes its way to reservoirs through storm events following wildfires. To search for these linkages, sediment cores from several lakes in northern Arizona will be analyzed. These cores show distinct zones of charcoal that indicate fire events and coarse sediment bands that indicate erosive events. Tests on these cores and a limited amount of field work to recover additional sediment samples will be conducted during the summer.
Jani Ingram, Chemistry Accordion Closed
The Ingram group is investigating interfacial chemistries of biosurfactants and mineral oxide. These studies are focused on understanding the role of biosurfactants in the fate and transport of metals in the environment.
Tom Kolb, Forestry Accordion Closed
Climate change is increasing aridity and deforestation. Arid-adapted trees are needed for reforestation projects to ameliorate negative impacts of increasing aridity on forest production and services. Little is known about tree genetic adaptation to aridity in regions highly vulnerable to climate change such as the southwest U.S. Summer REU students will measure traits of trees identified as more and less arid adapted to help us understand the mechanisms of aridity adaptation.
Nathan Nieto , Biology Accordion Closed
Our research focuses on the ecological maintenance and evolution of infectious diseases in wild animals and how this translates into transmission of disease to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife. We use a mixture of microbiology, molecular biology, phylogenetics and population ecology to investigate empirical infectious disease dynamics in wild animal populations. Much of our work is conducted on reservoirs or the identification of reservoir hosts for zoonotic pathogens.
Matthew O’Neill, Biology Accordion Closed
Dr. O’Neill is a fishery biologist with the Coconino National Forest, US Forest Service. His research involves management practices for fish habitat and populations in the Coconino National Forest, including many threatened and endangered aquatic species. Dr. O’Neill has been active in multiple undergraduate research programs in the past, including mentoring of students through NAU’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity and the NAU Undergraduate Research Mentoring program. Prospective REU student research might include experiments that assess optimal native fish habitat characteristics, or monitoring fish populations over time, and in relation to abiotic and biotic environmental alterations.
Bret Pasch, Biology Accordion Closed
Dr. Pasch studies the physiology, ecology, and evolution of acoustic communication systems in rodents of the Colorado Plateau and desert southwest. Of particular interest is the role of vocal signals in mediating mate recognition and reproductive isolation among ecologically similar species, and the evolutionary relationship between social organization and physiological adaptions of senders and receivers. Students will participate in ecological and behavioral studies, working with Dr. Pasch to develop and test independent hypotheses.
Catherine Propper, Biology Accordion Closed
Dr. Propper uses amphibians as model systems to understand how environmental contaminants impact development, reproduction, and behavior. Specifically, work in her lab tests hypotheses regarding whether individual compounds and complexes mixes impact physiological function.
Lisa Thomas, Biology Accordion Closed
Dr. Thomas is the program manager of the Southern Colorado Plateau Inventory and Monitoring Network, National Park Service. She leads short- and long-term monitoring of vegetation, aquatic macroinvertebrates, birds, water quality, and hydrology in the region. Students would conduct projects related to upland vegetation monitoring, and would join research teams collecting data on plot composition and cover for understory species, functional groups, and surface features; basal gaps and soil stability; canopy cover or closure; and species, size, and status for seedling, sapling, and overstory trees. Species, functional group, surface features and seedling data are collected at 15 – 10 m2 quadrats along three transects at each plot. Repeat samples are collected at some locations. Specific REU projects might include assessing the repeatability of data collection across the season, or developing and testing specific hypotheses by combining newly collected data with previous collections.
Thomas Whitham and Amy Whipple, Biology Accordion Closed
This group of researchers is interested in drought effects in pinyon pine communities. This research area involves ongoing ecological studies in the piñon-juniper woodland surrounding Flagstaff, Arizona. For two decades, this research group has examined environmental controls on interactions among plants, fungi, bacteria, arthropods, and vertebrates through monitoring efforts and long-term experiments that allow them to address the importance of genetically-based resistance traits in piñon pines on community and ecosystem processes. With recent acquisition of new tools for genetic and molecular analysis, researchers are now able to examine how the presence or absence of individual genes translates to higher levels of organization, including population genetics, microbial and plant community composition, and ecosystem function. Similarly, researchers can probe the influence of environmental perturbations, such as the recent drought in the Southwest, on the genetic structure and distribution of pinyon pine trees and dependent
2019 program dates & application deadline
Applications for the 2019 Research Experience for Undergraduates in Environmental Sciences are now being accepted until March 10, 2019. The 2019 program will run from May 28, to August 1, 2019.