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Photo caption here Photo caption here... Photo caption here... Photo caption will go here... Photo caption here... Photo caption here... WINTER | 2010

Flying High Boise State’s One-of-a-Kind Raptor Biology Program

Graduate Student Micah Scholer

Subsurface Sleuths

Power of Performance

STEM Education

The Value of Mentorship

The Research Magazine of Boise State University

WINTER | 2010



Educating for the Future An interdisciplinary team of Boise State researchers is working to ensure that the next generation of students excels in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.



What Lies Beneath Boise State is home to the largest group of academic geophysicists in the nation whose research focuses on the Earth’s shallow subsurface.



Practice Makes Perfect Creating a memorable performance requires research, vision, innovation and confidence. Boise State faculty share how they prepare to go on stage or before the cameras.


On the cover:

Graduate student Micah Scholer examines a northern saw-whet owl at the Idaho Bird Observatory research site near the summit of Lucky Peak, east of Boise. Cover story on page 18. Photography by John Kelly

Boise State University Explore Magazine Winter 2010 Vol. 2, No. 1


EDITOR Janelle Brown


WRITERS Mike Journee Erin Ryan Sherry Squires Kathleen Tuck

PHOTOGRAPHERS John Kelly Carrie Quinney DESIGNER Ann Hottinger

Departments 2

Research Record Highlighted in this issue: Developing a vaccine for West Nile virus; the 10th anniversary of The Idaho Review; genetic studies of a wildflower found only in Idaho; “greening” up businesses; and a Fulbright recipient conducts research.

28 In Print

Barton Barbour discussess his new book about the mountain man Jedediah Smith, plus a look at Mitch Wieland’s novel God’s Dogs, Jake Baker’s seminal engineering text, and Nancy Napier’s book on creative organizations.


Cover Story

18 Lofty Accomplishments





Research often is viewed primarily as the domain of the sciences and engineering, but it is integral to all disciplines. Perhaps at no time in history has research in the humanities been more important than it is today.

Boise State faculty provide invaluable guidance and encouragement to the undergraduate and graduate students in university research groups across campus.

Boise State faculty and students are studying owls, eagles, vultures, hawks and other birds of prey at research sites in Idaho, the Pacific Northwest and around the world. The university is home to the only master’s degree program in raptor biology in the nation, and possibly anywhere.

Boise State University is Idaho’s metropolitan research university, located in the state’s population center and capital city. The university is the largest in Idaho, with nearly 20,000 students enrolled in its undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. programs.

Explore, the Research Magazine of Boise State University, is published by the Division of Research with support from the Office of Communications and Marketing. Explore is available online at

Member of: University Research Magazine Association Division of Research

Boise State University Albertsons Library Room 153 1910 University Drive Boise, ID 83725-1135 (208) 426-5732


News Briefs on Boise State Research American Cancer Society Funds Study



Biologists Study Plant Found Only in Idaho Christ’s Indian paintbrush is found in only one place in the world – atop Mount Harrison south of Burley, Idaho. Boise State biologists are studying the rare species to learn the extent to which it is cross-pollinating with other Indian paintbrush species to produce hybrids, information of value to public land man- Christ’s Indian agers and others interested in Idaho’s paintbrush native plants. Biology professor Jim Smith received funding support from the Sawtooth National Forest for the project, which involves studying the physical characteristics of Indian paintbrush species and conducting genetic tests to identify molecular markers that indicate hybridization. Graduate student Danielle Clay is conducting the research under Smith’s direction for her master’s thesis. Christ’s (rhymes with fists) Indian paintbrush is limited to a 200-acre area at about 9,200 feet on the summit of Mount Harrison, near the Pomerelle Ski Area. The showy yellow perennial is one of a number of Indian paintbrush species found in Idaho.


It has been a banner year for research at Boise State University. Since you last saw Explore, the momentum of our research agenda has fostered dozens of success stories, too many to highlight in the pages of this issue. Our faculty accomplishments have been nothing less than spectacular. In fiscal year 2009, Boise State’s research funding jumped 32 percent to a university record $37 million, making this the fastest growing research program in Idaho. That upswing accelerated into the first quarter of fiscal year 2010, when we recorded our highest quarterly total in school history with $16.1 million in research funding – a 77 percent increase from the $9.1 million in the first quarter last year. Last spring, Boise State joined an elite group of colleges and universities involved in NASA’s Microgravity University program. The highly competitive program challenges students to conduct research in a reduced gravity environment. We look forward to more opportunities for our students and faculty with NASA in the future. Boise State’s national prominence in geosciences has been recognized through a $4.9 million U.S. Department of Energy grant. Boise State was selected to coordinate the establishment of a National Geothermal Data System to provide for the first time organized, widespread geothermal information. The dynamic research stories in this issue of Explore exemplify Boise State’s place in nationally significant research, and demonstrate our commitment to our mission as a metropolitan research university of distinction.


A Year of Achievements for Boise State Research

The statistics are sobering: 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer, a devastating disease that can metastasize to the liver, lungs, brain and bone. Biology professor Cheryl Jorcyk’s research could help improve those statistics. She is the recipient of a $720,000 grant from the American Cancer Society for Cheryl Jorcyk her project, “Breast Cancer Metastasis to Bone: The Role of Oncostatin M.” Jorcyk joins a distinguished group of researchers, including 42 Nobel laureates, to be funded by the ACS over the past 63 years. The key element of Jorcyk’s project is a signaling molecule called Oncostatin M, or OSM, produced by breast cancer cells and tumor-associated cells of the immune system. The molecule plays a role in inflammation and, according to Jorcyk, may contribute to the progression and spread of tumors, including metastasis to bone. Jorcyk is looking at the possible mechanism of OSM as part of studies that could eventually lead to the design and testing of drugs that inhibit the mechanism. Such a development would have enormous significance in the fight against breast cancer.

Research Record

Researcher Helps Businesses Go Green



ost companies get it when it comes to going green. In addition to being good for public relations, environmentally friendly practices can help eliminate waste. And when you eliminate waste, such as excess packaging or unnecessary energy consumption, you save money. But getting from good intentions to meaningful change is not without its obstacles. Business professor Tom GatBusiness professor tiker’s research identifies barriers to Tom Gattiker is an successfully implementing environexpert in environmental mental goals in the workplace and supply chain issues. ways to break down those barriers, particularly as they relate to a company’s supply chain – the organizations, people Nevada, Gattiker has visited and surveyed hundreds and activities that transfer a product from company to of ground-level individuals and companies across the company, and eventually to the consumer. Companies country that are striving to go green. grapple with who should push for sustainable practices Whether companies are focused on energy savalong the supply chain, what rationale for environmenings, transportation-related improvements or reductal measures resonates with employees, and how to get tion in waste or packaging, Gattiker’s research has leadership across the company to buy into the process. shown that inspirational appeals, consultation and “My research is focused on the micro level,” Gattiker rational persuasion are far more effective than forcing said. “A fair amount of research out there looks at the environmental initiatives. organization level but there’s not a lot that gives guid One of a handful of recognized experts in environance to individuals about what it really takes to move mental supply chain issues, Gattiker’s work is internaprojects forward in the workplace.” tionally cited. His hope is that it helps champions of Much of Gattiker’s work is funded and published environmental initiatives succeed. by the Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies at the “I believe environmental issues are the challenge of University of Arizona. Working alongside colleagues our time and our generation,” Gattiker said. “Business from the University of Tennessee and the University of schools have a big role to play.” – Sherry Squires

Literary Journal Marks 10 Years Boise State is celebrating 10 successful years of The Idaho Review, its award-winning journal of original fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction featuring some of the nation’s top writers. From the first nine issues, nine pieces have been reprinted in The Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, New Stories from the South and Best of the West. And 15 others have been

shortlisted by these same prize anthologies. “For a venture run on a shoestring budget, and staffed by dedicated students, our track record has given us a keen sense of accomplishment,” said Mitch Wieland, current and founding editor of The Idaho Review and a professor in the university’s master of fine arts program in creative writing. “The big New York publishing houses have long since turned their backs on short fiction and poetry; small journals like The Idaho Review give our country’s great writers a place to publish their work.” EXPLORE—WINTER 2010 | 3

Research Record

Students Josh Johnson and Tanya Barkell assess energy usage at Parks Royal Body Works in Boise.

Boise State Students ‘Energize‘ Idaho Firms



daho businesses are scrambling to save money in a challenging economic environment, and teams of specially trained Boise State students are helping them fine-tune and manage their energy consumption. Experts from the Idaho Small Business Development Center taught university students from a variety of disciplines – business, engineering, construction management and environmental health and science – to analyze utility bills and complete on-site energy evaluations. Utilizing grant funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the evaluations were offered free of charge to businesses. “There’s a big economic factor for small businesses and to have someone come in and do this for us at no cost is highly valuable,” said Matt Thornton, owner of Parks Royal Body Works, a Boise business that participated in the program. Businesses received a detailed report that explained cur-

rent energy use, recommended ways to reduce energy use, provided calculations for return on investment and paybacks, and identified utility incentive programs and other financing options. The energy evaluations will be extended to other areas of Idaho this fall. – Sherry Squires

Anthropologist Awarded Fulbright, NSF Grant for Studies

With a $797,000 award from the U.S. Department of Defense, an interdisciplinary team of Boise State researchers began work in September to develop a vaccine for West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease that poses a serious threat to human health. Biochemistry professor Ken Cornell is leading a team that also includes biology professors Juliette Tinker, Denise Wingett and Gongxin Yu. The project combines recent advances in biotechnology with emergent nanotechnologies to design and test the vaccines. According to Cornell, the first-year goal is to assemble three different vaccine platforms for oral or intranasal delivery, and to begin pilot tests using mice to determine whether the vaccines trigger immune responses. “Since its arrival in the U.S. a decade ago, West Nile virus has infected more than 30,000 people and caused more than a thousand deaths,” said Cornell. “By developing an effective vaccine, we could literally save lives in Idaho and across the country.”

A Fulbright research award and a National Science Foundation grant have launched anthropology professor John Ziker on an intensive year of research in the circumpolar north. Ziker was given a Canada-U.S. Fulbright award as Fulbright Visiting Chair in North American Studies at the University of Calgary. He is spending the 2009-2010 academic year at the John Ziker wears protective university and working with colleagues to research indigenous dwellings, move- clothing, including mosquito netting, during a research expedition. ments and demography in the circum-


polar north. Ultimately, the research is aimed at broadening understanding of human behavior and sustainable engagement with the environment. In addition, Ziker was awarded a $225,335 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct a capstone conference for the first major international collaborative research program in Arctic social sciences and humanities, held in October at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland.


Researchers Work to Develop New Vaccine

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x Helping the Next Generation of Students Excel is the Goal of Boise State’s Ambitious Programs By MIKE JOURNEE





“I’m not a math person.” It’s an excuse we’ve all used or heard to justify a perceived inability to grasp the concepts behind not only mathematics, but also the sciences and many other technical subjects. Educators see this well-worn justification not as symptomatic of a missing math or science gene. Instead, they see it as evidence of a generations-long breakdown in our educational system that has left students without the skills they need in our increasingly technological society.

Education professor Jonathan Brendefur coaches teachers on new ways to teach math.


“Everyone is a math person,” said Jonathan Brendefur, director of Boise State’s Institute for Developing Mathematical Thinking and professor of mathematics education. The problem, he and others believe, is that traditional textbook-based methods leave students, and sometimes teachers, with little context to make technical subjects either interesting or understandable. The stakes for addressing this issue are escalating. The United States lags behind many developed nations in student performance on math and science tests, on the proportionate numbers of students pursuing technical fields at the university level, and on academic output as measured by published academic articles in the sciences and engineering. “The next generation of scientists, engineers and teachers will play a critical role in the discovery and innovation that will help determine America’s economic future,” said Boise State President Bob Kustra. “It’s imperative that we prepare our young people to succeed in these important fields.”


Meridian teacher Gay Lynn Erb utilizes math teaching skills she learned at a Boise State workshop.


At its heart, the crisis is about a shortage of teachers qualified to teach what education scholars call STEM, short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Today’s teachers often are asked to teach STEM-related topics despite having little, if any, formal training in the subjects. And qualified scientists seldom opt for teaching careers when more lucrative jobs await in the private sector. A recent survey of all secondary school principals in Idaho showed vacancies for at least 100 science teachers and 60

math teachers across the state. An interdisciplinary team of Boise State administrators and researchers, including Brendefur, have teamed up to address these critical issues. With funding from many federal and state agencies, Boise State is engaged in wideranging efforts to provide current and future teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to help students from kindergarten to college excel in STEM subjects. At the same time, the university is turning its eye inward to evaluate how it prepares and motivates talented students to excel in careers as math and science teachers. “We need more qualified STEM teachers, and we want to give them the tools they need to succeed,” said education professor Louis Nadelson, who is leading the Boise State research team. “Our goal is to identify and implement programs and strategies to make that happen.” Nadelson and his team are zeroing in on how students best learn STEM subjects and how to instruct teachers to effectively deliver their lessons. University programs ranging from in-service teacher workshops to science and engineer-

Hands-on exercises help students grasp math and science concepts. 6 | BOISESTATE.EDU

ing camps to formal research partnerships with local school districts are being incorporated into the effort. Boise State researchers, some of whom have significant public outreach programs but little formal training in education methods, also are receiving support to develop their own research initiatives in STEM education. The university’s curriculum is being closely examined to leverage STEM opportunities. For example, an underutilized master’s degree geared toward teachers interested in teaching Earth sciences is being retooled as a STEM education master’s degree that will move from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Education. “We are not creating this from scratch,” said Sona Andrews, Boise State’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Andrews is leading one of Boise State’s most recent STEM initiatives – a collaboration with the University of Washington, Oregon State University, Portland State University and Washington State University focused on doubling the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities within the next five years. “We’re bringing together a lot of people and a lot of initiatives on campus that already are doing excellent work. It’s a great fit,” Andrews said.

Making STEM Make Sense

swer, I ask them to show me two or three ways to solve the problem,” Brendefur said. “The answer is the same, but the way they get to the answer isn’t.” The teacher acts as a facilitator to guide a student toward mastery rather than an instructor who issues specific directions. Many teachers, while eager, simply do not have the confidence and skills to handle this think-on-your-feet approach, which is why having someone like Brendefur to coach them is so crucial. “Remember, most of us are products of the traditional way of teaching this subject,” Brendefur said. When teachers figure out how to incorporate these methods, the results can be remarkable. Students of elementary and middle school teachers from Caldwell and Meridian that Brendefur worked with six years ago have shown marked improvements in math proficiency test scores – from scores in the 40-60 percent range before Brendefur began the project to 90 percent proficiency after “reformed math” concepts were introduced. “We used to think there’s only one way to do math,” said Gay Lynn Erb, part of this initial group of teachers who took part in Brendefur’s project. “It’s really about mathematical reasoning, and there’s more than one way to approach it.” Today, Erb heads up the Meridian School District’s efforts to improve math teaching techniques. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring by President Barack Obama. Erb said she worked hard to grasp the concepts Brendefur was presenting. “When I finally got it, it was almost terrifying,” said Erb, who considers Brendefur a mentor. “I realized how much I really didn’t know.”

Nadelson and many other STEM educators believe a holistic approach to teaching technical subjects will enhance overall comprehension. For instance, by helping students understand their math lessons through the simple physics that keeps a paper airplane aloft or the forces that allow a bridge to hold a train, teachers can connect math’s abstract formulas to the real world. “It really goes to people’s ability to problem solve,” said Nadelson. There are inherent obstacles to Math tools such as number “By approaching STEM topics in a educating teachers to teach a certain unified manner, students learn how way, then asking them mid-career to squares can enhance learning. to approach the problems they face make substantive changes. Nadelson and the Boise State STEM education group want to change in their daily lives in a methodical, scientific way.” the way educators are educated from the start. Since individual learning styles vary greatly, stu“The teachers are the key – they are the superheroes,” dents also benefit by developing their own methods said Pat Pyke, director of education research for Boise to tackle problems instead of being told how to do State’s College of Engineering and a member of the univerthem, Brendefur added. He works with elementary sity’s STEM education team. and secondary teachers in Idaho and nine other states Scholarships help. One recent U.S. Department of Educain the West and Midwest on a more comprehensive tion grant awarded to Boise State provides support for K-5 approach to teaching math. teachers to learn new STEM techniques through summer “Rather than asking students to give me the an-

Educating the Educators


workshops. Another scholarship is funded through a grant collaboration. Boise State will work with the University of from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Idaho, Idaho State University, Discovery Center of Idaho,  Teacher Scholarship Program and is designed to encourage Idaho State Department of Education, Idaho National talented students majoring in STEM areas to become K-12 Laboratory and Micron Technology to collect data on the math and science teachers. state’s STEM-related  programs  as a step toward develop However, real change in the way Boise State ing a proposal to achieve needed improvements. educates tomorrow’s STEM teachers will come at the “This will really help us get our arms around what university level. challenges we face and what we need to do to address this issue in Idaho,” said Nadelson, one of several co-principal A key is Boise State’s participation in the Science and Math Teacher Initiative program piloted by the investigators on the award. Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities to help universities increase the quality, quantity and diversity of science and math teachers, The goals of STEM educaparticularly in high schools. tion efforts, which center on encouraging more talented This network of 117 unistudents to become math and versities and university sysscience teachers, thus increasing tems, which is funded by the the number of STEM-proficient National Science Foundation, graduates, are well defined. is designed as an informaBut the best way to reach these tion sharing and planning goals has not been extensively collaborative. Boise State is researched. Boise State is helpamong 27 members selected ing fill that gap by examining for a leadership position. “Boise State was one the impact of each of its STEMBoise State’s Louis Nadelson, right, and the of the first to step forward related programs and determinDiscovery Center of Idaho’s Susan Dittus and say we want to be part ing what practices work best. compare notes as part of a study to learn how of this,” Andrews said. “This Nadelson, for example, is parents interact with children in informal science is where we will really have working with the Discovery learning situations. an opportunity to shape the Center of Idaho to examine national path forward on this issue. It’s something that how parents interact with their children in informal science we believe can be an area of excellence for us.” learning situations. “We think that if parents interact more Deans Cheryl Schrader of the College of Engineerwith their children, not only will the children get more out ing, Diane Boothe of the College of Education and of it, but so will the parents. But we don’t know that,” he Martin Schimpf of the College of Arts and Sciences all have said. “We’ve made centers like these a priority around the country, but are they working the way we think they are?” Boise State researchers from a broad range of disci“We need to show a new generation plines are gathering in a STEM Scholars Research Group. of America’s best and brightest With funding from Boise State’s Division of Research, it’s hoped that participants will form the nucleus of a STEM that teaching is a noble profession.“ education research culture on campus. – Barbara Morgan, distinguished educator in “It’s exciting to see the innovative and thoughtful ideas our residence and former NASA astronaut STEM Scholars are bringing forward as part of their deliberate discussions,” said Mark Rudin, vice president for research. taken an active role in the Initiative’s deliberations – a “What could be better than to have your leading scientists, sign of the strength of Boise State’s commitment to researchers and engineers trying to understand how they can STEM education and a reason for the university’s leaderfurther STEM in middle schools?” ship role in the program. Geosciences professor Karen Viskupic, the education Boise State also is a lead institution in the National Scimanager for her department, considers the opportunity to meet with other faculty as part of the Scholars Group ence Foundation’s Math and Science Partnership program. valuable on many levels. “For someone like myself, whose Engineering professor Amy Moll is principal investigator training is in science and has no education resume, this on the grant, which is aimed at encouraging statewide

The Role of Research



Boise State STEM Scholars Ross Perkins, center left, Henry Charlier and Louis Nadelson discuss upcoming projects with colleagues who also are part of the STEM team.

A Cultural Change

Ultimately, overcoming the nation’s gap in technical leadership boils down to two things for Barbara Morgan, Boise State’s distinguished educator in residence and former elementary school teacher and NASA astronaut. Morgan is a key member of the Boise State STEM team. Her position at the university was created to draw attention to the need for STEM reform in our education system and to help coordinate Boise State’s STEM work. While the efforts of Boise State, other universities, STEM-focused funding agencies and affiliated entities are a start, Morgan said the campaign demands a broader look at how our nation approaches education fundamentally. “Education needs a national will to address its issues,” said Morgan. “We’re making a great start here at Boise State and elsewhere. I know our leadership


is an incredible resource,” Viskupic said. Viskupic is a co-principal investigator on a five-year National Science Foundation grant that supports fellowships for graduate students in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics to work with K-12 students and teachers to enrich STEM content in educational settings. Last year, the community outreach program engaged more than 7,000 K-12 students in southwest Idaho. Viskupic is incorporating STEM education techniques in the program and is conducting student surveys to gauge their effectiveness.

on this issue will begin to address the problem. But what I’d really like to see is a national discussion about teaching and why people go into teaching.” There is little incentive for people to go into teaching, a profession many believe to be overworked, underpaid and underappreciated, she said. Those priorities must change or all of the STEM work being done today will address only the symptoms of the problem. “We need to show a whole new generation of America’s best and brightest that teaching is a noble profession,” Morgan said. “In my opinion, it is the most important profession for the future of this nation.”


STEM educators review many books as part of efforts to develop effective strategies for teaching, including science and math textbooks used in K-12 classrooms. EXPLORE—WINTER 2010 | 9

Bundled against subzero temperatures, geophysics professor John Bradford, far right, and graduate student Scott Hess conduct imaging surveys on the frozen Beaufort Sea near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, as part of research to develop new non-invasive methods to detect oil spills under sea ice. Bradford also conducts studies in Norway. Hess has since graduated with a master’s degree in geophysics from Boise State. The dramatic scenery of Alaska’s North Slope and Brooks Range is pictured in the background photo.






esearch expeditions to the northernmost wilds of Norway and Alaska have taught John Bradford a few things about the challenges of working in extreme conditions and remote locations. So when he learned that rifle training was required to work in an Arctic area frequented by polar bears, Bradford, a Boise State geophysics professor, took it in stride.

Geophysics professor Matt Haney uses seismic imaging and other methods to study the behavior of volcanoes such as Hawaii’s Kilauea.




“Polar bears can be aggressive, so this was just a basic safety drill,” he said about the protocol for conducting research in Svalbard, Norway, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. Bradford, along with Lee Liberty, a Boise State research professor in geophysics, traveled to Svalbard as part of a project to develop new, non-invasive methods to detect oil spills under sea ice. Polar bears, subzero temperatures and endless miles of snow and ice were all in a day’s work as they lugged heavy equipment to field sites for experiments. While neither Bradford nor Liberty had to reach for a rifle to chase off an unexpected ursine intruder, such a scenario wasn’t far-fetched. “We had tracks going right through our camp,” Bradford said. “We never saw the bears, but they were definitely around.”

Graduate student Emily Park conducts field studies in Alaska to understand the processes involved in the thawing of permafrost.

Bradford and doctoral student Emily Hinz use ground-penetrating radar to image the subsurface at the Boise Hydrogeophysical Research Site.


Funded by federal and state agencies and by energy companies, the research project led by Bradford involves using ground-penetrating radar to image sea ice, water and other structures hidden beneath the surface snow, as well as developing software programs to interpret the images. Scientists can use this information to determine if oil from an accidental spill is present beneath the sea ice and where it is likely to spread – all without the time-consuming and inefficient process of drilling holes.

Boise State University is home to the largest group of academic geophysicists in the United States – and one of the largest in the world – whose research is focused on the Earth’s shallow subsurface. Bradford’s research has garnered widespread interest, in part because it addresses a real and growing concern: As a warming climate opens new shipping routes, increased oil exploration in the Arctic raises the risk of oil spills. Bradford’s studies could provide scientists with the diagnostic tools to ensure that an industrial accident could be addressed before it became an environmental disaster. “It’s rewarding to be involved in research that addresses some of the most difficult environmental challenges we face,” said Bradford. “This is work that truly can make a difference.”


That sentiment is shared by Bradford’s colleagues in Boise State’s highly regarded geophysics program. Boise State geophysicists work in Idaho and around the world on research that addresses a number of critical issues, from studying processes linked to climate change such as how water flows through glaciers, to discovering subsurface faults that indicate earthquake hazards, to building new tools to remotely measure water content stored in mountain snowpack that could help cities better manage scarce water supplies. Boise State is home to the largest group of academic geophysicists in the United States – and one of the largest in the world – whose research is focused on the Earth’s shallow subsurface, generally defined as the first 1,000 feet below ground. While there are larger broadbased academic geophysics programs elsewhere, what sets Boise State’s program apart is its specific research focus on the Earth’s uppermost crust, where most human interactions occur. Over nearly two decades, the geophysics program has built an international reputation, attracted new faculty from top institutions, graduated its first Ph.D. students in geophysics, and built scientific collaborations that extend worldwide. Boise State is the host of an international geophysics field camp in Thailand that is among the first to be funded through the Geoscientists Without Borders program. And the university also has developed a world-class field laboratory, the Boise Hydrogeophysical Research Site, a few miles from campus that brings researchers from across the United States and overseas to Boise to conduct



Geophysics research professor Lee Liberty lowers a seismic source cable into Alaska’s Prince William Sound as part of a research expedition to image active faults that are an indicator of past earthquakes and tsunamis.

A Search for Solutions

Graduate student Josh Nichols stands above a crevasse on Alaska’s Bench Glacier. He is part of a research team using geophysical methods to study how water flows through glaciers.


Colorado’s lofty San Juan Mountains are among research sites for geophysics professor Hans-Peter Marshall. He has developed portable, ground-based radar to measure the total amount of water stored in the mountains as snow.

field tests and attend scientific meetings. The National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense and U.S. Geological Survey are among the federal agencies that fund Boise State geophysics research. University researchers also have received significant grants from industry and from state and local agencies. Many of these projects involve developing new imaging techniques and tools to obtain a picture of the subsurface without digging holes to access it directly, and computer modeling programs to interpret the information for a broad range of applications. “The outstanding reputation our geophysics program has achieved over a relatively short time is truly remarkable,” said Vice President for Research Mark Rudin. “It is the result of a talented and motivated faculty and a strong and focused vision from the start on what the program could accomplish.”

to use it to build a truly excellent program,” Pelton said. “I don’t lose sleep over that anymore. I think we’ve invested the state’s money extremely well.” Pelton cited the program’s success in attracting top candidates to its Ph.D. and master’s programs among its biggest achievements. Boise State geophysics graduates work in rewarding careers in industry, academia and government, both in Idaho and around the world. Tim Johnson, who earned a Ph.D. in geophysics in 2006, is among those graduates. “The diversity of expertise among my professors at Boise State was one of the

An Ambitious Trajectory

Geophysics professor Kasper Van Wijk, far right, and undergraduate student Kara Ferguson adjust seismometers that are used to record earthquakes from around the globe.


Boise State’s geophysics program was launched on an ambitious trajectory in 1991 with a $1 million grant from Idaho’s Higher Education Research Council. The grant, the first of its kind awarded to Boise State, established the Center for Geophysical Investigation of the Shallow Subsurface, or CGISS. Jack Pelton, now dean of the Graduate College and a professor of geophysics, was principal investigator on the proposal. “I used to lie awake at night thinking about how this was Idaho taxpayers’ money, and that we needed




Boise State is on the forefront of effor ts to develop new, non-invasive ways to IMAGING TECHNIQUES

Researchers measure how radio waves travel through the ground and are reflected at the material boundaries. The technique (pictured at left) yields a picture of the strata, similar to the way a hospital’s MRI provides a look inside the human body. Another method, seismic imaging,

involves sending vibrations through the ground to obtain subsurface images. Techniques include dropping a weight to the surface and recording how fast sound waves travel underground (pictured at right); or placing instrumentation that generates sound waves into a borehole and a receiver into another borehole and measuring the energy transmitted between the two.



An exposed cliff reveals sand and gravel layers, patches and small-scale structures similar to those at the Boise Hydrogeological Research Site (BHRS), that are usually hidden underground.

The sediments in the subsurface at the BHRS are seen as a series of wavy lines and indentations that mark the boundaries between various materials such as sand and gravel layers.

program’s strong points,” said Johnson, who considered several job offers before accepting a position as a research scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory. “I felt well prepared to enter the workplace.” Collaborations with industry partners also have added momentum to the university’s geophysics program. For example, Alex Calvert of GX Technology, a Denver-based subsidiary of ION Geophysical, has partnered with Boise State geophysics professor Kasper Van Wijk to develop new technologies that use refracted seismic waves to image the shallow subsurface. The technologies could enhance oil and gas exploration by providing more accurate methods for imaging the com-



plicated geology found just underground. “In academia, you can chase down some ideas that are higher risk – and that has some real benefits for industry,” said Calvert. “We hope to continue our collaborations with Dr. Van Wijk and with Boise State.” Van Wijk is one of several geophysics faculty hired during the past several years who have expanded the scope of research into new areas including laser ultrasonics, volcano seismology and remote sensing of snow and ice. The newest hire is Matt Haney, who joined Boise State in fall 2009. Haney is developing new geophysical methods to study the behavior of volcanoes, a field well-suited to Boise State’s location between Yellowstone Park and the active volcanoes of the Northwest. “When I first visited Boise State, I knew this would be an exciting place to teach and do research,” Haney said. “And so far, that’s been right.” Geophysics professor John Bradford, far left, and doctoral student Troy Brosten conduct imaging studies in an Arctic stream on the North Slope of Alaska as part of research to understand how the thawing of permafrost beneath streambeds affects nutrient cycling. Brosten earned a Ph.D. in geophysics in 2008 and now has a post-doctoral position with the U.S. Geological Survey.



image the Ear th's shallow subsur face, where most human interactions occur. COMPUTER MODELING

Researchers develop software programs to interpret the imaging data as part of studies to predict where and how fast contaminants will spread underground, the amount of liquid water in a mountain snowpack, the characteristics of an underground fault, and for many other applications.



Gradations in color indicate changes in the composition of sedimentary layers at various depths in the BHRS subsurface and were obtained by transmitting seismic energy between boreholes.

Three-dimensional radar images of the subsurface at the BHRS are integrated with information from wells to build a comprehensive picture of the aquifer.

Illustration by Ann Hottinger

Benefits for Students

Boise State students at both the undergraduate and graduate level work alongside faculty on funded research and also travel with their professors to research sites around the globe. Emily Park, a master’s student in geophysics, conducted field studies on the North Slope of Alaska last summer to understand processes involved in the thawing of permafrost, including how the degradation of permafrost affects where and how depressions called “thermokarsts” form. As a warming climate accelerates permafrost thawing, the research could help scientists better understand how fragile Arctic ecosystems are being impacted. Park, who is working under Bradford’s direction on the project, hiked from roadways and traveled by helicopter to reach research sites in Alaska’s backcountry, where she and Bradford used ground-penetrating radar technologies to image the subsurface. Park is reviewing the data now and developing numerical models to interpret it for her master’s thesis. “I want to work as an environmental consultant someday, so this research is great preparation,” she said. Doctoral student Emily Hinz conducts field experiments at the Boise Hydrogeophysical Research

Site and other field labs to study how water flows through the subsurface and through the “hyporheic” zone, where surface and groundwater mix. As part of her research, Hinz uses ground-penetrating radar to detect conductivity changes in water that has been injected with a saline tracer. If successful, the experiments could be used to develop new computer models and assessment tools to predict and monitor water flow in a variety of environments. “I really like doing fieldwork – and having field labs so close to the university is a big advantage,” said Hinz, who hopes to work as a faculty researcher after she completes her Ph.D.

A Multidisciplinary Field

Geophysics, as the name implies, uses physical principles to study the properties of the Earth. In many respects, geophysics is an amalgam of fields, from mathematics and hydrology to geology and engineering. The multidisciplinary approach, along with the opportunity to conduct research in the field, convinced Bradford to switch from physics to geophysics when he enrolled in graduate school. “We study the entire physical process, from developing new software and tools to collecting the data EXPLORE—WINTER 2010 | 15

and quantifying the results,” Bradford said. “While the research is advancing, many challenges remain.” Bradford’s studies in Norway to develop new ways to detect oil under sea ice are a case in point. As part of his fieldwork, he and his colleagues lug ground-penetrating radar equipment across frozen sea ice to remote test sites and shoot radio waves into the snow. The waves are reflected at the boundaries between the sea ice, water and spilled oil because of changes in electrical signatures at those boundaries; the radar data then can be interpreted to determine the location of the subsurface structures. While that may sound straightforward, it’s not. “There’s not a solid block of ice with water underneath. It’s much more complex,” Bradford said. Sea water can be trapped in pockets of ice that shift with

ocean currents flowing underneath. The pockets of sea water absorb radio waves, making it difficult to determine that there is actually more ice beneath the water. Bradford has developed new computer modeling programs to address these challenges and has conducted field tests in both Norway and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Other projects include studies involving the remote Bench Glacier in southwest Alaska to understand how water flows through glaciers. The research yielded some surprising results: Scientists learned that rather than storing water in isolated pockets, glaciers have a network of below-surface fractures that store much more water than previously thought. The research has applications for understanding how climate change will impact the massive ice sheets along the coasts of Greenland and Antarctica. Bradford and Boise State hydrology professor Jim McNamara have conducted research on how the thawing of permafrost beneath Arctic streambeds is affecting how nutrients are cycled through the system. And Bradford also is collaborating with Boise State geophysics professor Hans-Peter Marshall to develop new remote imaging systems that measure the amount of water in snowpacks in watershed systems. Bradford is developing new computer modeling technologies, while Marshall is working on new imaging hardware.

Facing the Future

Like his fellow geophysicists at Boise State, Bradford juggles multiple research projects, travels to remote locations, teaches and advises students and writes grant proposals. He doesn’t expect the multitasking to let up anytime soon. As scientists tackle the tough questions associated with a warming climate, a growing world population, and critical issues associated with energy consumption and a clean environment, Bradford believes subsurface geophysics research will play an increasingly important role. Jack Pelton thought as much some 20 years ago when he and several Boise State colleagues, including Spencer Wood, Paul Donaldson, Marty Dougherty and Jim Applegate, laid the foundation for a geophysics research center that would focus on the Earth’s shallow subsurface. “I realized right away that this was an area where Boise State could excel,” Pelton said. “There were lots of big, meaty scientific questions to study with some important applications. I knew it was a recipe for success.” JOHN KELLY PHOTO


The Boise River provides a scenic backdrop for experiments conducted by geophysics professor John Bradford and doctoral student Emily Hinz at the Boise Hydrogeophysical Research Site.

Unique field lab draws researchers from around the world



research into new areas, such as modeling how mois The Boise Hydrogeophysical Research Site may be ture is distributed in the subsurface and passes to the located only a few miles from the Boise State University atmosphere through bare ground and vegetation. campus, but its reputation reaches around the world. Research at the BHRS involves a number of Situated on a gravel bar along an idyllic stretch imaging techniques (including those described in the of the Boise River east of the city, the BHRS attracts “Seeing into the Earth” illustration on pages 14 and researchers from as far away as Switzerland and Italy, 15). The field laboratory also is equipped with a grid as well as from top research institutions in the United of specially designed test wells that can be used for States, including Stanford University and the Colorado a wide variety of geophysical and hydrologic studSchool of Mines. The BHRS also is an integral part of ies. By lowering equipment into the wells to measure the geophysics program at Boise State and supports a various conditions as part of experiments, scientists number of funded research projects. are able to physically verify the accuracy of their “The growing international recognition of the computer-based predictions. The fact that the BHRS BHRS has direct benefits for Boise State,” said David has such an array of test wells in a generic type of Wilkins, director of the Center for Geophysical Investinaturally variable aquifer and has been the subject gation of the Shallow Subsurface and chair of the Deof numerous published studies is among the major partment of Geosciences. “It has led to new research reasons it has attracted international attention. collaborations, enabled us to build relationships with “The BHRS is very well characterized,” said André our colleagues around the world, and expanded Revil, a French geophysicist who now is a professor at research opportunities for our undergraduate and the Colorado School of Mines and conducts research graduate students.” with Barrash at the BHRS. As a result, Revil said, it’s Scientists conduct research at the BHRS to develop a straightforward process to compare whether the and test new, non-invasive methods to describe the computer models he has developed match up with the subsurface, including where sand, gravel and clay lay“ground truth” – the conditions that actually exist. ers are located, and how water or contaminants flow In the complex world of subsurface characterizathrough them. The technologies can be used to address tion and imaging, that sort of verification is both rare a host of environmental issues, from determining how and valuable. “We are very good at understanding best to clean up an industrial waste site to selecting the how earth materials and properties are likely to vary in location for a geothermal well or new bridge to locating the subsurface, but knowing the actual details makes a an underground oil spill or understanding some of the huge difference,” said Barrash. “The BHRS is one of the processes associated with climate change. few places where you can conduct tests in the field and “By conducting field-scale work in a natural setknow what the answer is.” – Janelle Brown ting, we’re able to study subsurface properties as they exist in the real world. That offers tremendous advantages over working at a lab-scale level because we can look at the entire system including natural variations,” said Warren Barrash, director of the BHRS and a hydrogeophysics research professor at Boise State. The BHRS was founded in 1997 with a $2 million initial grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Over the past decade, research at the field laboratory has been supported by more than $5.5 million in additional external funding, and has broadened its scope as scienWarren Barrash is director of the BHRS Researchers utilize test wells at the tists test new instrumentation and and a hydrogeophysics research professor. Boise Hydrogeophysical Research Site new field and modeling methods. as part of experiments. Scientists are now expanding their










Boise State biology professor Marc Bechard, above, releases an African white-backed vulture captured and equipped with a wing tag in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Game Reserve. 18 | BOISESTATE.EDU



A tiny burrowing owl chick, less than 10 days old, is gently cupped in the hands of a Boise State researcher.

Graduate student Erin Strasser, right, prepares to release a male American kestrel after banding it and recording its weight, size and other physical characteristics.

Boise State’s One-of-a-Kind Raptor Biology Program

F lying By ERIN RYAN


Derived from the Latin term rapere, to seize by force, “raptor” refers to a collection of awe-inspiring avian predators. Eagles, owls, vultures and other birds of prey spend their lives on the wing, keeping ecosystems in balance with powerful talons and primeval instincts.

Boise State University is expanding knowledge about these char-

ismatic birds through faculty and student research in Idaho, the Pacific Northwest and around the world. Their work informs the decisions of wildlife managers and public officials and helps scientists better understand the threats raptors face as a growing human population diminishes habitat, climate change alters food supplies, and environmental issues from pesticide use to collisions with vehicles affect mortality rates. MICAH SCHOLER PHOTO







A unique graduate program drives the university’s contributions. Boise State offers the only master’s program in raptor biology in the nation and possibly anywhere. Over two decades the program has built an international reputation on its research efforts and accomplished graduates, who work in fields from resource management to medicine. The National Wildlife Service, Bureau Land Management, Boise State is home to the of Idaho Department of only master’s program in Fish and Game, The raptor biology in the United Peregrine Fund and other public and priStates and possibly the world. vate agencies fund raptor studies at Boise State. By advancing knowledge and training new scientists to take on leadership roles, the university is helping ensure that raptors will survive and flourish in the next century. “The success of our raptor research program is rooted in the work of exceptional faculty, our ability to attract topnotch students and the partnerships we have developed in both public and private sectors,” said Martin Schimpf, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This collaborative approach enhances our capabilities both in research and education.”


The birth of the university’s raptor biology program wove with the rebirth of The Peregrine Fund. Founded in 1970 by Cornell University’s Tom Cade, the international conservation organization successfully brought the peregrine falcon back from the brink of extinction. As its vision grew, it needed to establish a cohesive world headquarters. In 1983, Cade visited Idaho to connect with Morley Nelson, a celebrated master falconer and conservationist who died in 2005. Cade noticed immediately that the landscape surrounding Boise appeared ideal for the study of raptors, with one of the world’s densest concentrations of nesting birds of prey located in the nearby Snake River Canyon. A year later, The Peregrine Fund dedicated its World Center for Birds of Prey just south of Boise. That decision proved prescient when, in 1993, Boise State researchers discovered that the Boise Ridge above the city supports one of the largest raptor and songbird migrations in the Western United States. “Tom Cade really got us off the ground,” said Marc Bechard, who joined Boise State’s Department of Biological Sciences in 1983 and today conducts raptor research all over the globe. Bechard helped write the proposal to establish a master’s program in raptor biology at Boise State, which was approved by the State Board of Educa-


tion in 1987. Around the same time, Boise State took the academic lead in a cooperative venture that evolved into the Raptor Research Center. The RRC is a research unit of Boise State that has a collaborative agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct raptor studies. “The center works on resource management issues for state and federal agencies, but we also address more basic biological questions,” said RRC director Mark Fuller, a USGS employee who advises Boise State graduate students in addition to doing research for the USGS. “Through both kinds of research, we get a better understanding of what all organisms on Earth are doing here, their roles in creating the environment we depend on and implications for our shared future.”


For Micah Scholer, owls are key to that understanding. He is a secondyear student in Boise State’s raptor biology program and recently completed his first full field season in the Boise National Forest. He is modeling forest owl habitat associations using information about biotic and abiotic factors, statistical software and surveys. More plainly, Scholer is driving backcountry roads and snowshoeing into the wilderness at night with a GPS and a device that blasts birdcalls, trying to find if and where elusive owls are nesting in 84 different sites. During the day he studies tree snags and the behavior of resident woodpeckers, as their presence might predict that of owls. “It’s more thrilling than anything,” he said of his fieldwork in wild places. Scholer is looking at six forest owls, including northern saw-whet, boreal, great horned, barred and western screech, but flammulated owls are his focus. “There is still a lot to learn about the elements influencing why these raptors are where they are,” he said. “This is a unique opportunity to start documenting what habitats they’re using, and having local information for the Boise National Forest is important because it will guide management decisions for forest treatments and expansions.” Field studies are critical to understanding species because small changes in ecosystems can have broad impacts, noted Jim Belthoff, Scholer’s adviser and chair of the Biological Sciences Department. “Nature has a balance to it,” he said. “It selfregulates to a certain extent, but when you have disturbances there are impacts, and it’s important to understand what they are.” Belthoff’s research subjects in Southern Idaho include burrowing owls to understand how environmental factors such as encroaching subdivisions affect their numbers, barn owls to gain insight into why so many

Graduate student Micah Scholer measures the girth of a Douglas fir snag as part of his research to study the habitat of forest owls that nest in cavities in the dead trees. Forest areas near Lowman, Idaho, pictured below, are among his research sites.


Opposite page: An American kestrel, far left photo, is readied for release after being briefly captured and studied. A bucket of burrowing owl chicks is pictured at left.



are killed by vehicles along Interstate 84 between Burley and Boise, and screech owls to investigate factors that influence their movements through river corridors and wooded suburban areas. Another major focus of Belthoff’s work is natal dispersal, or the impulse of young birds to leave the nest at a certain time in their development. Belthoff and biology professor Al Dufty, now the associate dean of Boise State’s Graduate College, have conducted novel studies of screech owls that suggest an increase in the stress hormone corticosterone is linked to dispersal. “Dispersal is a phenomenon that occurs throughout all animal life,” Belthoff said. “While we’re learning more about the basic biology of these birds, we’re also helping natural resource agencies better understand their management issues. It’s the applied aspect of the work coupled with the advancement of knowledge.” Belthoff said working with students is among the most rewarding aspects of his busy job. Having studied owls extensively in his 16 years at Boise State, he implicitly understands the value of investing in young scientists like Scholer, who are passionate about further discovery. “Owls as a group are probably less well understood than other raptors, and flammulated owls are tiny and incredibly secretive. The trees they nest in sometimes are more than 100 feet tall and wider than

you can get your arms around, so they’re very hard to study,” Belthoff said. “It takes all night sometimes, and Micah and I follow up with daytime work. Field biology people are dedicated.” “It takes a certain personality,” Scholer said. “I hope I never get a desk job.”


While he does spend time at his desk, Marc Bechard also spends considerable time in the field, from Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego National Park to Spain’s Punta de Tarifa. A key player in the founding of Boise State’s raptor biology program, he has taught raptor ecology, vertebrate natural history and general ornithology for 26 years. When he’s not in the classroom, he is globetrotting in the name of science and Boise State. As an educator, researcher and consultant, Bechard has worked in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. During a recent research trip in Kenya, Bechard and several colleagues spent time in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve studying the movement ecology of five species of African vultures. Branded the “Vulture Research Group,” they spent two weeks driving around looking for carcasses. One day they found a dead hippo and rigged a trap on its body with parachute cord. EXPLORE—WINTER 2010 | 21


Erin Strasser came to the “raptor capital” after receiving encouragement from Dufty and biology professor Julie Heath, a graduate of the program who joined the faculty after earning a Ph.D. at the University of Florida. “I liked the fact that she had published a lot at a young age,” said Strasser, who became Heath’s first advisee. Now on the verge of graduating, Strasser is analyzing her field work on American kestrels occupying nest boxes across Southwest Idaho. She hypothesized that birds in areas of high human disturbance, such as on power poles or near highways, would have physiological reactions that






would hamper reproductive success. She looked specifically at the stress hormone corticosterone and found strong indications that her hypothesis is right. Getting to that point involved reviewing years of data collected by other researchers, taking countless measurements and blood samples of nestlings and fledglings, and dealing with the resulting “battle scars.” “Ultimately it’s about the thrill of problem solving. That’s the cool thing about science – you work so hard to discover something, and groundbreaking or not, it is still important and will contribute in some way,” Strasser said. “Dr. Heath helped me realize that. She shares ideas and remembers what it’s like to be a student.” Heath, who conducts research on avian reproduction, will utilize Strasser ’s data in her ongoing studies. Heath also is interested in how raptor habitats are affected by alternative energy developments in the West such as wind farms, and by contaminants such as flame retardants released into the environment at waste disposal sites. “I would like to start working on the science now,” Heath said, “so the affected birds don’t end up on the endangered species list.”

“Within 10 minutes we caught a lappet-faced vulture, which averages 25 pounds with an 8-foot wingspan and a neck like a snake,” Bechard said, adding that a tourist group witnessed the spectacle. “We made this dramatic 100-yard dash and secured the bird, and the tourists gave us a standing ovation.” The team equipped 12 vultures with cell phone transmitters that text their in-flight locations three times a day. “We’re going “Wherever I go, people in the to learn a great field know about Boise State deal about how and its internationally respected vultures follow herds of wilderaptor biology program. It’s the beests to find food,” Bechard raptor capital of the world.“ said. “They play –Biology professor Marc Bechard an essential role in preventing the spread of disease and have been doing so for millennia.” Bechard participates in many such projects each year, from studying the flapping patterns of griffon vultures migrating across the Strait of Gibraltar to investigating the possibility of mercury contaminating Idaho bald eagles. He is co-founder and director of Argentina’s Center for the Study and Conservation of Birds of Prey and frequently publishes in leading international journals such as Ibis and the journals of Field Ornithology, Wildlife Management and Raptor Research, for which he was editor for the better part of a decade. “Wherever I go, people in the field know about Boise State and its internationally respected raptor biology program,” Bechard said. “It’s the raptor capital of the world.”

Flammulated owls, above photo, and burrowing owls, left photo, are among owl species studied by Boise State researchers.




Perhaps the best measure of the growing impact of Boise State’s raptor biology program is its graduates, who work for nonprofit and government agencies and for industry and academia across the country and overseas. At a recent informal meeting of coordinators of management actions for bird conservation in North America, 2 of the 15 were graduates of Boise State’s raptor biology program, Heath noted. “Percentage-wise, that’s huge,” she said. “Our program produces serious players.” It also produces serious data, such as annual statistics on migratory raptor counts from the Idaho Bird Observatory on the Boise Ridge. The IBO is a university research unit devoted to monitoring migrating raptors and songbirds and teaching the public about their ecological significance. It was co-founded and is directed by Greg Kaltenecker, who graduated in 1997 with a master’s in raptor biology. Kara Donohue, an avian protection specialist for Southern California Edison who earned her master’s from Boise State in December, is one of many examples of the program’s success. While a student, Donohue co-authored a paper with Dufty that was one of most A raptor, above photo, is released at sunset at the Idaho Bird Observatory research site on Lucky Peak.

frequently cited contributions in the prestigious Journal of Field Ornithology within the last five years. The paper, which looked at using DNA analysis and other methods to determine the sex of red-tailed hawks, earned her an invitation to present her findings at an Association of Field Ornithologists conference in Utah in August 2010, an honor shared only by the journal’s top 10 authors. “We are thrilled for Kara, and this is another in the long list of Dr. Dufty’s accomplishments,” Belthoff said. “It serves to highlight the impact of our raptor biology program and the caliber of our students.” Now living and working in Los Angeles, Donohue cited outstanding professors, relevant research and lifelong friendships with fellow students as highlights of her time at Boise State. “My degree got me a job I love, trying to reduce bird mortality caused by the company I work for, and my expertise in raptors was particularly instrumental in getting this position,” she said. “My experience in the program and with Boise State was exceptional.” Boise State’s distinctive program will continue to focus on key research areas in the future, Belthoff said. “The diversity of our projects is increasing, the strength of the program is growing, and our work as faculty members is facilitated more and more by the research of outstanding students,” he said. “What started as something of a niche program is now setting a standard for biological education.”


Graduate student Erin Strasser, left, and biology professor Julie Heath analyze blood samples from American kestrels to learn about the quality of the raptors’ habitat and stress hormone levels.



The POWER of

Innovation doesn’t just happen in the quiet confines of a science lab, book-filled office or art studio. It also takes place before a live audience, in a way that will never occur exactly the same way again. Meet six Boise State faculty who share their talents on the stage or in front of the camera.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF THEATRE ARTS “There is no performance without an audience – it’s like the proverbial tree in the forest.” A truly great performance doesn’t start when the curtain goes up, nor is it born in the shadows of the wings. For Gordon Reinhart, preparing for his very best performance begins much earlier – 10,000 hours earlier, to be exact. Reinhart, a professional actor and director, is a proponent of the ideas espoused in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success. The theory is that it takes 10,000 hours of practice and sacrifice to excel at something. “The way we talk in society, it’s a gift from the gods. Either you are endowed with creativity or you are not,” Reinhart said. “But artists are 24 | BOISESTATE.EDU

about discipline. What is the spark? It’s the thing that makes you go into the practice room.” Part of that practice involves becoming familiar enough with the script to become, and not just play, the character. “Musicians pay attention to the notes, a dancer to the choreography, the actor to the text,” he said. “But it doesn’t give you everything you need. It can’t set the performance. Shakespeare may have said, ‘To be, or not to be, that is the question,’ but there are choices. How do you say it? What does it mean?”


Gordon Reinhart

In the end, all that preparation has its rewards. From the moment Reinhart steps on stage – whether as Brutus in the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “Julius Caesar,” or as Renfield in “Dracula” or Peter in Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo” at Boise Contemporary Theater – he comes alive and time ceases to have the same meaning. “Performance is a non-intellectual, non-choice-making moment,” he said. “You build a slide, slide down it and don’t think about the construction. You’ve done all the preparation and now you have to be brave enough to let it go.” – Kathleen Tuck


Linda Kline Lamar plays a difficult passage from a Hindemith sonata with the ease of a virtuoso, her fingers flying over the strings, her viola resonating with each perfectly placed note. The sound is rich, deep and filled with emotion. “It speaks to my soul,” Lamar said of her chosen instrument. “The viola is pensive, it has a dark quality at the lower end of its register. It is my primary means of expression.” An accomplished artist, Lamar has played with orchestras and chamber groups across the country, as well as with the Boise Philharmonic, with the Boise State faculty ensemble Les Bois Chamber Players, and in solo recitals. Performing onstage without even a pianist to accompany her is a challenge Lamar has particularly relished. “It is very freeing, because it’s just me, so I can control what I do,” she said. Lamar works to connect with her audience on a personal level. “Sometimes I’ll pick out someone in the first row, and I’ll play just for them,” she said. “You develop an intimacy with an audience, no matter its size, and you feel its energy.”


“Performing makes me a better viola instructor. It helps me relate to my students in new ways.”

Rigorous preparation undergirds every performance. Lamar practices slowly until every note is perfect, then gradually increases her tempo as her technical proficiency builds. Once the notes become muscle memory, Lamar can concentrate on expression and nuance. She eschews listening to recordings of the piece she is preparing to perform in order to hone her own interpretation. Onstage, viola in hand, Lamar feels focused, confident and joyful. She loves the spontaneity that comes with live performance, the sense that every concert is a new and unique creation. The thrill stays with her long after the audience applauds and the lights dim. “It’s exhilarating,” she said. – Janelle Brown


Sitting across the couch from Katie Couric and Al Roker on NBC’s “Today” show or being interviewed by regional or local media personalities would make most people nervous. Heidi Reeder stays calm and collected by using the skills she’s developed as an award-winning educator. “I think about the TV audience as my students, only the class is a little larger,” said Reeder, an expert on male-female interactions such as friendship. She finished that thought with a laugh as she realized that her “Today” show “class” had about 6 million students. “I’m comfortable talking to my students, so why should talking with a larger group of people about something I know really well be any different?” Reeder’s dynamic style, coupled with her ability to summarize lengthy research articles on relationship issues in a few succinct sound bites, has landed her numerous media interviews, including an appearance a few years back on the “Today” show and on the nationally syndicated show “Life & Style.” She also has been featured on a Seattle-based National Public Radio program and on local television, including an ongoing program that focuses on relationships.


“I think about who my audience is and what I have to say that they’ll appreciate most.”

Preparation – the key to any performance – is what puts Reeder at ease and makes her so effective. “The first thing I want to know is exactly what the producers want me to talk about,” said Reeder. “That allows me to really focus on key points that I want to get across.” She distills her ideas down to several key thoughts that can be delivered in just a few moments, the likely duration of even the lengthiest of television interviews. With her prep work done and her clothes, makeup and demeanor calibrated for the bright lights , Reeder said it’s easy to be genuine, even conversational, once the cameras start rolling. “It gives me so much energy,” she said. “I’m glad I’ve had this opportunity.” – Mike Journee EXPLORE—WINTER 2010 | 25


There is power in words. Poet Janet Holmes also puts faith in powerful delivery. “Every poem, every book of poetry, requires a different set of performance skills,” she said. “I borrow from theater and from music, even from visual arts, to convey emotion.” As she prepares for a reading, Holmes asks herself: Do the words on the page echo? Are they lyrical, humorous, harsh or tense? These explorations help her bring her poetry to life. Her performances may be billed as poetry readings, but she hardly sits and reads. Holmes often displays her poetry visually during a performance so her audience can see the relevance of how it’s placed on the page. The title of her latest book is derived from erasing and skipping some of the letters in The Poems of Emily Dickinson to get the sequence of words, The ms of m y kin (Shearsman Press, 2009). This title can be read as “the manuscript of my kin,” an artistic riff on Dickinson that illustrates the unseen connections between both poets and poetry. Holmes celebrates the link between poetry and music


“Thinking about performance has changed the way I write poetry. It makes me aware that I need to choose words that can be spoken and conveyed.”

in her collection, Humanophone. In live performances, others often read with her and speak the words on pitch, thereby emulating a humanophone, a musical instrument made up of individuals, each singing only one pitch. Performance helps Holmes make breakthroughs in her teaching, where attention to sound, rhythm and pacing contributes to the critique of student poetry. Holmes frequently quotes poems in class from memory. “I don’t memorize something I don’t deeply care about,” she said. In addition to penning her own work, Holmes has edited Boise State’s award-winning Ahsahta Press since 2000, and her graduate students in the master of fine arts program in creative writing help select finalists for the press’ Sawtooth Prize. Ahsahta Press will publish its 100th book of poetry this year. – Sherry Squires


Standing before a choir, baton raised to the ready, Jim Jirak experiences a flood of thoughts and emotions. As music drifts up from the orchestra, he focuses on the mood, rhythm and meaning of the piece. He concentrates on when to bring in the altos, what is happening with the violins and how to allow himself to be swept up with emotion and still be present enough to make music. Through it all, one feeling rises above the rest, crowding out all other thought. “I find myself in a state of thankfulness,” said the longtime choral conductor and performer. “I feel so privileged to be a part of live music-making.” Jirak, a talented vocalist who also plays the piano, clarinet and saxophone, has been conducting since accepting his first teaching job more than 30 years ago. He has directed youth and adult singers in groups ranging from quartets to full choirs, as well as orchestras. All these years later, he still thrills at a live performance beautifully done. “It’s what jazz musicians call being in the groove,” he said. “I know I am in it when everyone is so focused on the music that it becomes contagious. The audience feels the one26 | BOISESTATE.EDU


“That’s why we have music, so we can experience the indescribable.”

ness of the intent and that’s when it comes full circle.” Finding that groove requires intense discipline and precision. Jirak practices conducting as he reviews his music, cuing invisible tenors, soloists and accompanists. He visualizes his movements and those of the performers, taking note of each gesture and musical nuance and focusing on diction and clarity. He performs stretching exercises, so he can be physically as well as emotionally ready. In the end, the preparation more than pays off. “When music is beautifully performed, there are times I am overwhelmed with emotion,” he said. “These are the moments we desire.” – Kathleen Tuck



“Dance isn’t just passion and whim. There’s so much more behind the movement.” When a dancer extends into full arabesque, the body impossibly balanced, Marla Hansen sees more than beauty. “You have to be inspired and passionate, but you can’t just freeform,” she said. “You have to ask, how is this movement connecting the idea to the music; what is it communicating? It requires critical thinking.” Hansen knows from experience. She performed professionally for 25 years as a principal and soloist for companies such as Portland Ballet Company and American Festival Ballet, her talent extending from the stage to the studio to the director’s chair. In Boise State’s Department of Theatre Arts, she oversees the dance emphasis and is co-artistic director of Idaho Dance Theatre, the university’s professional company in residence. Despite the thrill of performance, she expresses herself just as richly through choreography. “It always ends up relating to my life – present, future, memories or dreams,” Hansen said. “Pieces start either as a desire to communicate these ideas or as one element that informs and inspires meaning. The concept evolves in the creative process, and it’s exciting because you never know what it will be.” Finding out might involve observing patterns in nature, journaling about an experience, poring over Kerouac’s poetry, playing with the imagery of a routine, or listening to a Chopin prelude until the melody is unforgettable. “It’s constant experimentation and discovery; that’s what choreography is. I try to stay totally open to what’s possible, to the subconscious coming through. Once I have a kernel of an idea, then I step back and really analyze what I’m doing,” Hansen said. “It requires sincere reflection and a willingness to fail. When I try something and it’s right, I get chills. So much of it is kinesthetic awareness. All of a sudden you feel it.” – Erin Ryan


In Print

On the Trail of a Legend


History professor Barton Barbour, wearing mountain man regalia, stands near the Idaho State Historical Museum’s Pioneer Village with a copy of his new book.

History professor Barton Barbour searches for the real Jedediah Smith


t was summer of 2003 and Barton Barbour was driving across the vast, brutal expanse of the Mojave Desert. Heat waves shimmered skyward from the desert floor as the mercury rose to unbearable heights.

From the comfort of his air-conditioned car, he imagined traveling through that hostile terrain on foot, with only a few comrades and a packhorse for 28 | BOISESTATE.EDU

company, on a trailblazing journey from Bear Lake, Utah, to Southern California. In this case, imagination failed him. “When you

In Print

step out of your car into that heat, even for a moment, it’s impossible,” he said. Barbour, a history professor at Boise State University who focuses his research on the culture of the mountain men and the fur trade, was on the trail of early 19th century explorer and trapper Jedediah Smith. According to the few available facts, Smith was killed by Comanche Indians in 1831 in the plain near the Cimarron River in modern-day Kansas as he was searching for water. Barbour’s book, Jedediah Smith: No Ordinary Mountain Man, chronicles the exploits of this larger-than-life figure in detail. Not only was Smith the first white man to travel overland to California via the Southwest, he also roamed through more of the West than any of his peers. According to Barbour, Smith is among the top mountain men and adventurers of all time in North American history. “Jedediah Smith is important as an explorer and also for his mapmaking and journaling,” Barbour said. “These features make him compelling and also allow for the study of his life. Most explorers, like Kit Carson or Jim Bridger, were illiterate and wrote nothing.” That’s not to say Smith left an extensive literary trail. His journal entries are brief but do give important clues to his activities. And while his original maps have yet to be found, much cartographic evidence from that era only could have come from Smith’s painstakingly detailed documents. “There is enough information from his writings to allow a look into his mind – a very unusual exercise for a Western history character,” Barbour said. Barbour spent 10 years researching the book, which opens with an account of how Smith most likely died, then backtracks to his early life and extensive career, including his travels throughout the West, his dealings with Native Americans and his interaction with Mexican officials in California and Hudson’s Bay administrators in Oregon. In addition to retracing Smith’s Mojave journey, Barbour traveled up the coast to San Francisco and the inland valley, north to the Umpqua River, east to Fort Vancouver, then down to Idaho. “The trip gave me a better sense of the landscape and added color to my writing,” Barbour

said. “There are a lot of remarkable landscape changes along that route.” Barbour admits that he long has been a fan of the intrepid explorer, whose life, he says, is intimidating and defies belief. “The sheer magnitude of his adventures is very unusual and so are the achievements of his life,” he said. “He is the discoverer of the South Pass, the first man known to have led a party

“Jedediah Smith is important as an explorer and also for his map-making and journaling. These features make him compelling and allow for a study of his life.“ – History professor Barton Barbour across the Great Basin to California, the first man to have crossed from California back to Utah and the first known to have walked from San Francisco to the Columbia River. And he was the most competent cartographer of all the mountain men.” But Barbour’s book doesn’t just deal with where Smith went and what he did. It strives to give the reader a more meaningful glimpse of the explorer’s life and how he affected those around him – both fellow adventurers and those interested in his discoveries. The book, part of the Oklahoma Western Biographies Series published by the University of Oklahoma Press, will be used to supplement other texts in history classes and seminars across the U.S., as well as by Western scholars and casual historians eager for more information on this legendary figure. More than 800 copies of the book had been sold before a single review was published in scholarly journals, a fact that Barbour finds gratifying. “I knew I was tackling a great character in fur trade history and had to do my very best to create a compelling narrative,” he said. “But I knew that Jedediah Smith was much better known than I am, so hitching my star to his coattails would be a great way to reach other people with my creative work.” – Kathleen Tuck

Jedediah Smith: No Ordinary Mountain Man

By Barton H. Barbour University of Oklahoma Press, 2009


In Print


Engineering professor Jake Baker



CMOS Circuit Design, Layout, and Simulation

By R. Jacob Baker John Wiley and Sons Inc., 1997 Revised 2nd edition, 2008


nyone who has studied complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor, or CMOS, technology most likely knows the name R. Jacob Baker. Baker is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Boise State and author of one of the most widely used books on CMOS in publication today – CMOS Circuit Design, Layout, and Simulation. CMOS technology is used to fabricate integrated circuits used in microelectronics devices from computers to hearing aids, and Baker’s book helps students, educators and entrepreneurs understand the processes integral to their design and development. The book’s impact is enhanced by its widespread usage as required reading in college engineering classes across the nation and as a standard text on the reference shelves of electrical engineering firms around the world. Initially released in 1997 and updated in several editions over the ensuing decade, CMOS Circuit Design, Layout, and Simulation has sold more than 50,000 copies in the United States and abroad, making it one of the most successful textbooks

ever written on integrated circuit design. According to Baker, a Web site he developed,, has been a significant factor in the book’s success. “The site offers support material ranging from instructional videos to solved problems that help students and engineers learn CMOS integrated circuit design,” he said. “It has been used by tens of thousands and gets roughly 500 hits a day.” Accolades from reputable electronics publications are plentiful. Baker’s seminal text was described as “a worthwhile and practical reference that will hold you for those next 25 years of CMOS challenges,” by Electronic Design. A reviewer for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Circuits & Devices recommended Baker’s book for use in entry-level digital and analog circuit design classes. And the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society Newsletter noted the book offers “a vital, contemporary view” of CMOS technology. Baker also is author of CMOS Mixed-Signal Circuit Design and shares authorial credit for a popular text on dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, one of the primary products of Boise-based Micron Technology. While being a successful author is gratifying, Baker wrote his first book because he wanted to be better equipped as an educator. “You see the need for a book with a specific emphasis, for example, one that integrates CMOS circuit design, layout, and simulation in one location,” said Baker, who in 2007 received the American Society for Engineering Education’s Frederick Emmons Terman Award, which annually recognizes an outstanding electrical engineering educator. “If others agree that there is a need for such a book, then you may have a bestseller on your hands.” – Erin Ryan



hether on the football field, in a boardroom or backstage, highly successful, creative organizations tend to behave alike. In business professor Nancy Napier’s most recent book, The Creative Discipline: Mastering the Art and Science of Innovation, she

In Print

closes in on how and why. Co-written with Swedish creativity expert Mikael Nilsson, the book addresses how creativity defies organizational differences, why some organizations are more creative than others, what sets innovative, high-performing organizations apart, and how creativity and innovation can be learned. The authors illustrate six key factors that power creative, highachieving organizations, and how managers can use them. Napier studied four Boise-based organizations for her research, including the Boise State football team, ProClarity (now part of Microsoft), Healthwise and The Idaho Shakespeare Festival. She’s since expanded her research to encompass eight organizations, including law enforcement Business professor Nancy Napier

and dance. All are high performers in their fields, objectively measured by rankings, profits or other observable criteria. The work has led to another book, Insight: Encouraging Aha! Moments for Organizational Success, due out this spring. But it also has brought together the eight organizations she refers to as the “Gang” in meaningful ways. Senior leaders meet to discuss “messy problems” faced by all of the organizations, use one another as sounding boards, and are identifying ways to help Boise build an economy that thrives on creativity. “Economic development binds them,” Napier said. “When they began to talk, they realized they could leverage off of the importance of one another – from employment, to the arts, to sports to a safe community. “The ‘Gang’ is a test tube of creative organizations in a test tube city,” Napier said. “They will help Boise become known as a global creative hub.” – Sherry Squires

The Creative Discipline: Mastering the Art and Science of Innovation

By Nancy K. Napier and Mikael Nilsson Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008




ith its stunning vistas and harsh climate, the Owyhee Desert in Southwest Idaho can seem a mythical place. In Mitch Wieland’s well-received new novel, God’s Dogs, the Owyhee Desert also is a place of transparence, where complex emotions are laid bare under the heat of a blazing sun. “There was something about those endless miles of sage and chaparral that got under my skin,” said Wieland, a professor in Boise State’s master of fine arts program in creative writing and founding and current editor of the university’s literary journal The Idaho Review. “I found myself writing these stories because I wanted to capture the powerful sensations I was feeling.” Continued on following page EXPLORE—WINTER 2010 | 31

In Print

Perspective Continued from previous page

God’s Dogs: A Novel in Stories

By Mitch Wieland Southern Methodist University Press, 2009


English professor Mitch Wieland


Written as a series of interconnected short stories, God’s Dogs brings to life Ferrell Swan, a retired teacher who has fled the shambles of his life in Ohio for Idaho’s high desert. Swan moves toward self-acceptance and discovery in the course of the book through visits from his stepson and his ex-wife and occasional contacts with a few reclusive neighbors – including a fellow who lives underground in a storage tank. The Owyhee Desert and the wild animals that roam there, including mustangs and coyotes – the “God’s Dogs” of the book’s title – are integral to the stories Wieland weaves. God’s Dogs was praised by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford as “fastidious, trenchant, spare and often eloquent. Mitch Wieland’s stories have great breadth, powerful sympathies, and a renewing comprehension of our human selves we only find in the best literature.” One of the book’s stories, “The Bones of Hagerman” was among only 18 selected for inclusion in the Best of the West 2009 anthology. Editors reviewed 250 magazines and journals in making their selections, and Wieland’s story appears alongside the work of famed writers Annie Proulx, Joyce Carol Oates and Louise Erdrich. God’s Dogs is Wieland’s second novel. His first, Willy Slater’s Lane, published in 1996, was described as “immensely moving” by The New York Times and received starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist. Wieland is the recipient of a 2007 Christopher Isherwood Fellowship and two literature fellowships from the Idaho Commission on the Arts. He currently is working on a novel set in Tokyo, where he lived for several years. – Janelle Brown

Illuminating the World Why Humanities Research Matters By MARK RUDIN


esearch, at its core, is a disciplined search for truth. It is the means by which we systematically acquire new knowledge. Research leads to new discoveries, inventions, products, ideas and practices. To be a researcher is to be an explorer, open to possibility, treading new ground. A definition of research is a good place to begin a discussion of the role the humanities play in intellectual inquiry for a simple reason: It reminds us that research is multi-faceted, broad-based and pretty much involves everything in the world. While there is a tendency to think of research primarily as the domain of the sciences and engineering, it is integral to all disciplines. At Boise State University, our faculty in the humanities are engaged in research and creative activities that are central to the overall strength of our university, the education of our students, and the quality of life in the Treasure Valley, Idaho and farther afield. Why is humanities research, and its importance, sometimes overlooked? Perhaps because it can appear so different from scientific research that takes place in laboratories or field settings, where sophisticated instruments, experiments and complex calculations are required to pursue the work at hand. Humanities research may take place in a library basement in a distant country as a history professor sifts through reams of primary source material to bring a heretofore unknown event or person to life and relevance. It may occur in a quiet campus office as a philosophy professor ponders the seminal texts of great civilizations and develops new theories for unanswerable questions. It may be centered in public presentations, outreach and education at locations across Idaho and around the world. Or it may reside in the body of work created by an artist over a span of many years, work that shows a progression of experimentation and insight. Creative pursuits in the arts are akin to other forms of research, requiring the same level of intellectual inquiry, ingenuity and rigor to succeed. Research in the humanities, like most worthwhile endeavors, seldom yields results quickly. At times, the



speed of progress can seem glacial. It can take many years of solitary work to research and write a nonfiction book or pen a work of original fiction, or to create a challenging artistic work where nothing existed before. But these pursuits are valuable on many levels. They deepen and challenge our perceptions, move us forward as a creative society, and help our students become productive world citizens. Boise State faculty in the humanities are engaged in this important work on many levels with a degree of excellence that has been acknowledged with awards and opportunities. For example, English professor Mitch Wieland, who is featured in the “In Print” article at left, recently had one of the stories in his new book, God’s Dogs, published in the Best of the West 2009 anthology alongside the works of some of the nation’s most critically acclaimed authors. Boise State’s Ahsahta Press has enjoyed a banner year under the direction of English professor and editor Janet Holmes and will publish its 100th book of poetry in March. Art professor Cheryl Shurtleff’s multi-part artwork, “Dwelling on the Past,” is included in the first exhibition to be held in the new contemporary wing of the Whatcom Art Museum in Bellingham, Wash. History professor Nick Miller, who conducts research on nationalism and has testified before a war crimes tribunal at The Hague, is among our faculty who have developed expertise in areas that are in demand on the world stage in regions undergoing change. Others, such as anthropology professor and Fulbright recipient John Ziker, an expert on the indigenous peoples of the circumpolar north, are pursuing research that preserves knowledge that would otherwise be lost. Modern languages and literatures professor Beret Nor-

man, whose published work focuses on young writers and visual artists who grew up in the former East Germany, is one of many examples of humanities faculty who are conducting original research that is expanding current understanding of culture and history. When our professors return to Boise State from farflung places, they bring with them experiences and expertise that transform their teaching. Our students are the beneficiaries as our faculty share their insights in both the classroom and informal settings. The value of these exchanges cannot be overstated; they provide a framework and context for our students to undertake the important and necessary work of developing their own critical world views. Perhaps at no time has research in the humanities been more important than it is today, when technological advances and scientific discoveries are opening the doors for products and possibilities unheard of a generation ago. One doesn’t have to look far back in history to see what can happen when science and technology are uncoupled from human experience, when questions of “how” are not followed by questions of “why.” The promise of technology also is the promise of humanity, and thus research in the humanities has a vital role to play. Boise State University is committed to advancing research in the humanities as an integral component of its mission as a metropolitan research university of distinction. The work of our faculty in many disciplines in the humanities is a pillar of the university’s research excellence today, and will continue to be so in the future. Mark Rudin is Boise State’s vice president for research and executive editor of Explore. EXPLORE—WINTER 2010 | 33


Team Players Teamwork isn’t just found on the famous blue turf. It’s also a core value of Boise State’s growing research programs. Undergraduate and graduate students are the beneficiaries of collaborations with faculty who are pursuing a broad range of funded projects. By interacting with faculty and with their peers, student researchers gain skills, knowledge and insight. Faculty also benefit from sharing ideas and expertise with their colleagues. Here’s a look at several of the university’s many research groups.


How Mentorship Strengthens Boise State’s Research Culture



ithout the passing on of knowledge, there wouldn’t be any progress,” said Chris Buu, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering at Boise State. While his statement qualifies as basic wisdom, he was referring to the crucial role mentoring plays in research. Buu is one of more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students working with engineering and science faculty in an interdisciplinary collective on the cutting edge of materials research. Housed in the College of Engineering, the group currently is pursuing projects ranging from creating DNA nanostructures that support novel electronics to testing next-generation semiconductor materials to developing chemical amplifiers that may someday help detect cancer.


While the work is exciting and beneficial to young researchers such as Buu, the interaction with other students and faculty advisers is equally valuable. “It has definitely enhanced my academic experience,” he said. The group was founded by Bill Knowlton, a jointly appointed professor in materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering. He worked for Hewlett-Packard Labs and Insight Analytical Labs before joining Boise State’s faculty in 2000, and the lessons he learned as a professional informed the operation of his research group from day one. “Coming from industry, I know that teamwork and collaboration are important,” Knowlton said. “I modeled the group structure with this in mind.” The core of that structure includes faculty members William Hughes and Bernard Yurke in materials science and engineering, Wan Kuang in electrical and computer engineering, and Jeunghoon Lee in chemistry. And the group frequently collaborates with materials science and


Engineering professors Bill Knowlton, left foreground, and Will Hughes are part of an interdisciplinary research group that includes other faculty and undergraduate and graduate students. engineering professor Peter Müllner. “It’s a distributed load, everyone contributing and benefitting, which provides students an opportunity to have a stake and ownership in the direction of the group,” said Hughes. “We share space, resources, ideas and management, so cohesiveness is extremely important.” Hughes came to Boise State in 2008 from a faculty position at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. While he is a seasoned researcher and the recipient of prestigious awards and fellowships, he said the most valuable aspect of his transition to Boise State was learning the ropes from his new colleagues. “In many ways, our relationship is much greater than a collaboration,” Hughes said. “It’s very much a unified effort.” An emphasis on extensive communication among all faculty and students in the group has been integral to its growth and accomplishments, according to Knowlton. He defines research success as a combination of great results, dissemination through publication, collaboration with

outside groups, and the ability to secure grant funding to support students and further work. “The students are mentored in each of these aspects. The more they know about the process, the more they can contribute,” Knowlton said. Borrowing from Knowlton’s industry experience, students work in sub-groups on particular projects that contribute to overall research goals. Student leaders manage regular meetings to discuss progress, setbacks and ideas. While faculty researchers are deeply involved, they know when to step back. “Their management style is hands-off in the lab, which provides opportunities for students to come into their own and run the day-to-day show,” said Dave Schenker, a sophomore mechanical engineering major who conducts microscopy research for both Knowlton and Müllner. “All of the professors are very active in guiding the work, and the more experienced students are responsible for training fresh recruits. I’m still on the receiving EXPLORE—WINTER 2010 | 35



end, which has been indispensable.” Some of that leadership comes from doctoral student Richard Southwick III, who got involved in the group as an undergraduate in electrical and computer engineering and now is one of its most senior members. He credited his longterm investment to the seeds planted by hands-on undergraduate research and opportunities to present it, from Boise State’s Undergraduate Research Conference to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Integrated Reliability Workshop in Lake Tahoe, Calif. “Thanks to Dr. Knowlton, I was introduced to leading researchers in my field and had the opportunity to interact with them and share my results,” Southwick said. “He and the other faculty have always been very supportive and genuinely interested in my research interests and future career, always willing to take time to provide direction.” Providing direction falls just as much to the students, who consult and depend on each other daily. Junior materials science major Stephanie Barnes has been the leader of the fabrication sub-group since June 2009, and she still is learning from her teammates – especially those with less experience. “New members are extremely eager to learn, which renews my interest and keeps me sharp, and the fresh, focused perspective of nontraditional students reminds me to think more about the material than the grade,” Barnes said, adding that her research training has taught her to appreciate even the smallest victories, the subtlest steps forward. “For me it has involved a perspective shift where every detail involves you educating yourself. I look at the world differently now. Being in this group has made learning itself more interesting.” Whether analyzing esoteric data or beating the faculty at


pingpong, the students in this dynamic Boise State research group are exceptionally engaged and prepared for whatever futures they choose. “The idea is that students will leave our institution and make a positive impact on society,” said Knowlton. “I derive more satisfaction from seeing a student progressing in this manner than I do from performing good research.” – Erin Ryan



uke Woodbury, a senior biochemistry major from Boise, had his sights set on becoming a medical doctor. But four years of working various jobs in Julia Oxford’s laboratory at Boise State helped put his life on a different course. “Now, I think I would be much happier doing research,” Woodbury said. With plans to graduate soon, Woodbury is exploring his options for graduate school and eventually a doctorate. He thinks his hands-on lab experience – an unusual opportunity often available to Boise State undergraduates – will make his graduate school application stand out. Oxford, director of Boise State’s Biomolecular Research Center and a professor of biology, agrees, noting that experience also gives undergraduates a leg up in their classes, where static lectures can leave students with little perspective on the applications of their lessons. “I think people learn so much better by doing,” Oxford said. “By offering undergraduates the opportunity to carry out guided independent research, they can understand everything that goes into a funded research project from start to finish. It’s a very valuable experience.” Woodbury started out cleaning up and doing inventory around the lab. But under the careful supervision of Oxford and her staff of post-doctorate researchers, graduate students and undergraduates, he worked his way up to being a biochemistry technician making proteins for Oxford’s efforts to understand how cartilage functions as a tissue. Arthritis or joint pain sufferers could one day benefit from her work, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Idaho State Board of Education, among others. “It’s an incredible experience and opportunity that I don’t think I would have ever had otherwise,” Woodbury said. Faculty members appreciate the opportunity to open doors students might not have considered, Oxford said. “I think most faculty members enjoy mentoring because they can think back to mentors that influenced the choices that they made as young people. They know it really makes a difference.” – Mike Journee Biology professor Julia Oxford discusses a lab experiment with senior Luke Woodbury.


Last Word

Business professor Rob Anson coaches students who work directly with Idaho business clients.



extbooks and coursework can teach budding programmers to write code. But they won’t teach them how to work through detailed negotiations with clients, how to recognize nuanced differences between projects, or a whole host of other skills that will help them succeed in the workplace. Boise State business professor Rob Anson uses an innovative approach to bridge the gap. “There are things that just don’t come from a book and knowledge that is difficult to impart in a full classroom,” he said. “If I can model processes and behaviors for my students, they can learn so much more.” As a doctoral student, Anson first learned about “cognitive apprenticeship,” the theory that people best learn to think by observing others more skilled than themselves think and act out loud through a situation. He’s been using it ever since. In his capstone class for information technology majors, Anson acts as consultant for teams of students who do everything from system development to cost benefit analysis for real clients. He believes in the mentoring concept so strongly that he and his wife moved into the business residential college for a year where they could interact with students outside of class. He also advises and supervises students. When Vincent Lukasavich returned to school for a second degree, Anson helped him understand the information technology field and what types of jobs it might help him attain. Now a senior, Lukasavich works under Anson as a peer adviser to other students. “Dr. Anson has a wealth of knowledge in the field and I’ve often sought his advice,” Lukasavich said. “His demeanor and personality are really open, and he takes a genuine interest in students.” The relationships he’s built with students are equally rewarding for Anson. “Most faculty crave seeing that spark, that moment when the student grasps something. It’s why we are drawn to teaching in the first place,” he said. “When you work with a student one-on-one, you see it.” – Sherry Squires

Mentorship plays a vital role in university’s research success One of the most rewarding parts of publishing a university research magazine is the opportunity it provides to showcase the excellent work of our faculty and students. This issue of Explore literally explores the world, with articles that highlight Boise State research pursuits in locations ranging from the Arctic to Africa, as well as here in the Treasure Valley and throughout Idaho. These diverse projects provide many benefits to our state and region, not all of which are quantifiable. In some cases, there are no dollar amounts or hard statistics to determine what benefit our students ultimately derive from working alongside faculty on funded research projects. But the benefits are substantial, and many of the articles in this issue of Explore underscore that fact. Mentorship – the process by which a more experienced person helps a less experienced person – is a theme that runs through this issue of our magazine. It is overtly explored in “Team Players,” the article preceding this column that focuses on several of our outstanding research groups. But mentorship also is an underlying theme in a number of other articles, as students discuss how hands-on research under the guidance of faculty enhances their education and prepares them for future careers, school teachers describe how our faculty are helping them develop new classroom skills, and new faculty relate the benefits of working with established faculty researchers. The research culture of our university is grounded in collaboration, as the stories in this issue of Explore attest. It’s exciting, and gratifying, to see the creative ways our faculty and students are driving this dynamic forward. As our university continues along the path of research excellence, our commitment to mentorship will help guide the way.


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Boise State Explore Magazine 2010  

Explore, the research magazine of Boise State University, is published annually by the Division of Research and Economic Development with su...

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