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Positively Charged News from the College of Natural Science & Mathematics

CNSM alum soars with the geese 7 Have fun with this brainteaser  Lab welcomes $1 million instrument to “the family”  CNSM brings art, slime and fun to the community  Remembering an atmospheric sciences alum 

Graduate student Danielle Serratos “dives” into ancient past with a waterloving plesiosaur 2

Vol. 13 | Issue 2 | Spring 2013

Notes from the Dean’s Office

Office of the Dean

358 Reichardt Building 474-7608 Paul Layer, Dean Anupma Prakash, Associate Dean and Director, Division of Research Hild Peters, Executive Officer

Atmospheric Sciences

314 IARC Building 474-7368 Kenneth Sassen, Interim Chair


henever I read student theses and dissertations from across CNSM’s departments, I am always amazed at the breadth of our disciplines and the quality of our student research. In this newsletter, we hope to highlight some of the research going on at the graduate and undergraduate levels. These students are working alongside our talented faculty and keeping pace. What’s more, they are making worthwhile contributions to their field through professional presentations and publications. CNSM also has other good news. Research assistant professor and Director of Outreach, Dr. Laura Conner, started a series called “Color of Nature Science Cafés,” which brings scientists to local cafés to discuss the art behind their science. So far, each one has been packed. Our two Chapman Chairs, David Scholl and Eddy Carmack, organized noted speakers from the circumpolar nations to give seminars and workshops about different aspects of the Arctic Ocean. Eddy dedicated his workshop to former Chapman Chair, Norbert Untersteiner, a leader in Arctic science who passed away last year. We also welcome aboard a new JEOL electron microprobe to the Advanced Instrumentation Lab (AIL). The National Science Foundation funded the $1.4 million instrument, which will further geochemical and biochemical research at the university. There is one story yet to be told, and you can be part of it. On Thursday, August 22, we will have a ribbon cutting for the Margaret Murie Building where the Department of Biology & Wildlife will teach classes. The ribbon cutting coincides with the Institute of Arctic Biology’s 50th anniversary, and there will be tours and seminars for people to attend. This building connects research with learning by housing it all under the same roof. For more details, visit our website at www. We hope to see you there.

Paul Layer Dean

Biology & Wildlife 211 Irving I Building 474-6294 Christa Mulder, Chair

Chemistry & Biochemistry 194 Reichardt Building 474-5510 Bill Simpson, Chair

Geology & Geophysics 308 Reichardt Building 474-7565 Sarah Fowell, Chair

Mathematics & Statistics 101 Chapman Building 474-7332 Anthony Rickard, Chair


102 Reichardt Building 474-7339 Curt Szuberla, Chair

Mission Statement

Through instruction and mentoring, the College of Natural Science and Mathematics promotes students’ self-motivation to excel and guides them towards professional careers and public service in an environment of life-long learning. Through research, the college advances knowledge of natural, physical, technological and numerical systems from a northern perspective. Instruction, mentoring, research and outreach are brought together within undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs to benefit Alaska, the nation and the world.




• Christopher Iceman, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

• Terry Norman, Proposal & Grants Coordinator, Division of Research

• Lee Taylor, Associate Professor of Biology (Ecology)

• Robert Coker, Associate Professor of Biology (Exercise Physiology)

• Anne Rittgers, GeoFORCE Coordinator

• Shana Ingebrigtsen, Fiscal Manager, Dean’s office • Libby Miles, Graduate Student Coordinator, Chemistry & Biochemistry


UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

Donors and Industry Partnerships

Geoscience graduate students win first place — BP supports team


CNSM team of geoscience graduteleconference meetings. ate students won first place and Anchorage-based BP geologist Rebecca $1,000 at the regional Imperial Bailey said, “We are very excited about Barrel Awards (IBA) competition and the team’s success!” She said competitions will advance to the international IBA like the IBA program give students realcompetition on May 17, in Pittsburg, PA. world experience and help prepare them The American Association of Petroleum for careers. Bailey works with CNSM’s Geologists (AAPG) sponsors the competiGeology & Geophysics Department to find students who are interested and qualified tion and will fly the UAF team members for internships, scholarships and jobs. to Pittsburgh where they will compete The 2013 UAF team for the Imperial Barrel Award program: The IBA competition is for geosciagainst 11 other teams for prizes of up to From left: Cathy Hanks (UAF faculty advisor), Tyson Forbush, $20,000 for their geoscience programs. ence graduate students from universities Olaniyi Ajadi, Alec Rizzo, Sandy Phillips (BP mentor), Ashley BP sponsored the UAF team by donataround the world. Teams have a faculty Siks (BP mentor), Casey Denny and Rachel Frohman. advisor and two industry professionals ing $3,000 to cover the team’s travel who serve as consultants. The AAPG gives the teams a data set expenses to the regional competition in California. The comabout a real place, and students analyze the data, determine the gas pany also provided two professional consultants for the team, and oil potential of the area and present their findings to a panel of BP geologists Sandy Phillips and Ashley Siks, who are based in industry judges. Anchorage and provided coaching through visits to Fairbanks and We’d like to thank donors and industry partners of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. Through contributions or hands-on involvement, they have joined with the college to support our commitment to academic excellence, research and service. We hold these relationships with donors and industry partners in high regard. They lend strength to the college and support our mission to produce outstanding graduates and a well-qualified workforce. We wish to thank the following donors and partners: Businesses/ Corporations

ABR, Inc. Alaska Science Consortium Alaska Statewide High School Symposium American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) American Chemical Society BP Foundation, INC Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund Janice K. Stevenson Trust Liz Claiborne & Art Ortenberg Foundation New York Life Insurance Olgoonik Development, LLC Schlumberger Oilfield Services Sigma Xi

Thomas Hamilton Marilyn H. Herreid Eric Hulm Scott Hummel Kimberly Jirrels Barbara and Brian Jones Michelle Knowles Peter Kuhn Gary and Beth Laursen Jason and Becky Lindsey Jon Lindstrom and Janet Kidd Dorothy Lucas Carolina Marquez Mike and Sharon McConnell Jane Middleton Cathy and Bob Miller Tammy Miyasatos Ellen Myerson Matthew and Erin Narus Paulina Oliva Kathy and Steve Person

Natural Science and Mathematics welcomes


Kif Augustine-Adams and Stirling Adams Layne and Beth Adams Vera Alexander Marv Andresen Alan Batten Bill and Andrea Benitz Marianne Bitler Paul Bowen Sue Broadston Lauren and Glenn Burnham Ray and Jill Cameron Damon Clark John and Elizabeth Cook William Dambeck Ginny Darvill Bob and Karen Day Laurence Dean Linda B. Distad Burnett and Susan Dunn Martha and John Gilmore Fan and Ronald Graham Kevin and Lisa Hamel

The College of

contributions and Richardson and Caroline Pettit Diane Phillips Sterling Rearden Amy Reed Paul and Terry Reichardt Bob Ritchie Thomas and Jo Roberts Tom Royer Brad Shults and Janet Warburton Steven and Katherine Smith Mike and Robin Smith Roy Loewenstein and Alana Stubbs Robert and Virginia Taylor Richard and Kathleen Weber Annie and Patton Witt Susan S. Woodward Kristi Wuttig Stephen and Veronica Young Jerry and Barbara Zelenka

community support. Go to and click on “Giving” to make your secure contribution. For information, contact Executive Officer Hild Peters at 907-474-7941 or

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Graduate Student Wades Into the Past With   


Danielle Serratos holds the restored plesiosaur skull.

ou may want to open up with this,” said Danielle Serratos. “I have two passions and they are Mesozoic marine reptiles, and the other is public education and outreach. This is really exciting stuff, but if you don’t tell anyone about it, what’s the point?” True to her word, the master’s student in the Geology & Geophysics Department is sharing her story. It starts with a woman whose passion for Mesozoic marine reptiles prompted her and her newlywed husband to pack their bags and spend their honeymoon on the Alaskan Highway. They were leaving Texas, a place she knew and loved from childhood to her undergraduate years at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. She especially loved the nearby ocean and the creatures in it, including the ones that no longer swam in it like the marine reptiles called plesiosaurs that ruled the oceans when dinosaurs ruled the land. That’s why she was coming to UAF. There are only a handful of university professors in the nation who study marine reptiles that lived 250 to 65 million years ago, and UAF geology associate professor Pat Druckenmiller is one of them. While he teaches for CNSM, Pat is also the the Earth Sciences curator for the UA Museum of the North. Danielle emailed him after her husband, a marine biologist, found research papers that Druckenmiller published on Mesozoic marine reptiles when he worked for the Museum of the Rockies in Montana. After realizing Danielle shared his passion for ancient creatures of the deep, Pat offered her one of three graduate projects and explained that she might have to drive a little farther than Montana to work on them. While all of the projects sounded interesting, there was one that blended seamlessly with Danielle’s undergraduate experience.

While at Texas A&M, she extracted a plesiosaur from the banks of the Missouri River with a team of researchers and students. It had been missing a head, and so it was ironic that Pat presented her with a project of extracting a plesiosaur head from the rock that encased it. Pat said the skull and the rest of the plesiosaur body were already at the UA Museum of the North, waiting for an interested graduate student. Pat had already removed it from a backcountry Montana creek bed after getting involved in the project through a fortuitous find of a hunter, a chance meeting with a colleague and a really good cell phone picture.

There was a sea in Montana

Let’s start at the beginning – say 75 million years ago, just 10 million years before the mass extinction of dinosaurs and marine reptiles. This is when

Undergraduate research technician Alex Edgar (left) and undergraduate volunteer Emma Boone (middle) pose with Danielle next to the rock encasing the plesiosaur body. The two undergraduates have helped Danielle with her project.


UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

Marine Reptiles


Danielle’s plesiosaur was swimming around a sea in what is today Montana and Canada. The sea stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, effectively splitting North America in two. The Earth was warmer then and oceans stretched above continents, allowing giant marine reptiles to swim where you and I now walk. Danielle’s plesiosaur looked a lot like a creature that doesn’t exist, but is quite photogenic – the Loch Ness Monster. Like Nessie, it had a small head, a long neck, a torpedo-shaped body, a short tail, and four paddles for arms and legs that acted like oars. Its total length was probably around 20 feet. The reptile was a fierce predator and as such, it was active and warm-blooded. Danielle’s plesiosaur died and fell to a resting place that became the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. In 2010, a hunter named David Bradt hiked the refuge looking for elk, but found a

plesiosaur instead. He stumbled across 13 neck vertebrae, still attached, that arced across a creek like a bridge. Bookending the vertebrae were two blocks of rock, one which contained the head and the other, a body. The refuge put the plesiosaur in the care of the Museum of the Rockies, which has one of the largest collections of dinosaurs in the world and a lot of dinosaur experts. But plesiosaurs are not dinosaurs. Dinosaurs roamed the land, while marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs swam the oceans. The museum’s one-time marine reptile expert, Pat Druckenmiller, had left for a job at UAF. As chance would have it, a scientist at the museum ran into Pat at a conference and showed him a picture of the plesiosaur on a cell phone screen. Even when seen in small dimensions, Pat could tell the find was big. It was rare to find a plesiosaur this well intact, but even rarer to find what looked like a new species of plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs had different neck lengths and were generally grouped as short-necked and long-necked, but Pat said with a chuckle that this might be the first “short-necked, longnecked” plesiosaur ever found. The encased body is also exciting because there may be preserved food contents in the stomach. If the plesiosaur turns out to be a female, there may even be a fetus inside since females gave birth to live young. Pat signed on to help out with the plesiosaur and organized a team of volunteers to remove it from the refuge and bring it back to the UA Museum of the North. The marine reptile will eventually go back to the Museum of Rockies, but not before Pat has had a chance to study and make a cast of it.

Dr. Pat Druckenmiller holds a model of the plesiosaur that a friend made for him.

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right  Danielle works to extract the plesiosaur from the rock. below  Danielle shows off the plesiosaur’s toothy “grin.”

With so much work to do, Pat needed graduate and undergraduate help and offered Danielle the opportunity to work on the piece of rock that contained the skull and several neck vertebrae. After extracting it, she could write and publish a paper describing all the bones. “Most professors wouldn’t give graduate students an opportunity this spectacular,” Danielle said. Yet Pat saw in Danielle something absolutely necessary of anybody who goes into the work – dedication and patience. She began the slow and painstakingly detailed process of removing rock away from the similarly colored skull and neck vertebrae. “You hope as you take away the rock, you’re not taking away bone with it,” she said. Pat was there to guide Danielle through the process, but he also wanted to give her the freedom to learn. “You want to give students structured chaos,” Pat said. “They wade into this process and it’s a lot to take in. I give them parameters and guidelines and then set them free to explore.”

Sharing the excitement

After six months of hard work, Danielle has restored an impressive looking skull. It has large, pointed teeth 4

befitting of a large underwater carnivore that managed to survive as a species for almost 130 million years. When Danielle shows the skull to visiting guests or other students, “Wows” and “Ooohs” often escape their mouths. Smiles break out when she demonstrates how she used a dental pick to clean between the plesiosaur’s teeth. The enthusiasm Danielle sees in people’s eyes isn’t lost on her. She tries to ignite that enthusiasm in school children so that they understand science and want to learn more. “Paleontology is the toy deparment of life,” she said. “You want to share with kids all this exciting information.” Last summer, Danielle joined the ranks of GK-12 Fellows which is a CNSM outreach program that brings undergraduate and graduate students to elementary and secondary schools. She said, “It’s our job as fellows to go into the classrooms and connect teachers and students to science resources they may not have access to.” As part of this program, Danielle organized a free science festival called the Science Expo at Ft. Wainwright, and 271 people from the base attended. She will organize another one for August 2013. Danielle’s ideal dream job would be to work at the confluence of research, Mesozoic marine reptiles and education, somewhere like a museum. She’s getting a taste of it now, working with Pat at the UA Museum of the North, but says she will pursue a PhD before settling down. “I have so much to learn,” she says. She also has so much to give.

UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

Spotlight on Faculty Chemistry professor goes live in front of the nation If you were interviewed in front of a live national audience about a complex science issue, would your heart beat fast? Most people would be nervous, but Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry professor Cathy Cahill emanated nothing but ease as she talked and bantered with Ira Flatow, the host of National Public Radio’s weekly show, “Science Friday.” Flatow interviewed Cathy about why wood burning in Fairbanks is popular and how it causes air pollution in Fairbanks that is sometimes worse than Beijing’s. Cathy regularly attracts the attention of local and national media with her research on atmospheric aerosols and their impacts on visibility, global climate and human health. Dean Paul Layer said, “While Cathy’s research is interesting, she talks about it in a way that makes sense to people. Knowing how to communicate research is just as important as the research itself.” To listen to Cathy’s interview, go to and type “How Wood Smoke Is Dirtying Alaska’s Air” in the search field.

Light and Color come to Fairbanks Professor Kenneth Sassen in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences is coordinating the “Light and Color in Nature” conference August 5 – 8, 2013 at UAF. Speakers will explore topics like atmospheric optics in history and archaeology, rainbows, ice crystal halos, auroras, atmospheric visibility and iridescence in biology and geology. There is funding available to help students and young faculty in the U.S. travel to the conference. For more info: 2013-conference/ or email

Two mathematics professors team up


ssociate professors Leah Berman and Jill Faudree in the Mathematics & Statistics Department just published a paper, “Highly Incident Configurations with Chiral Symmetry” in the journal Discrete Computational Geometry. What does it all mean? Leah explained, “Suppose you want to draw a given number of points and lines so that every point has three lines and every line has three points.” She drew a figure like this:

An n3 configuration

Leah said that the drawing is a geometric k-configuration, which is a collection of points and straight lines in the plane so that k points lie on each line and k lines pass through each point. The k-configurations are also known as (nk) geometric configurations and the above is an example of an n3 configuration where the “3” means that 3

points lie on each line and 3 lines pass through each point. It is also an example of Pappus’s Hexagon Theorem. Leah said Jill, whose research focus is combinatorics and graph theory, was interested in Leah’s research in configurations and so the two teamed up, looked at the above figure and starting asking questions. “Are there any others? Is this special? For a fixed number of points and a fixed number of lines, how many n-configurations are there? Are there related configurations?” said Leah. “You don’t know where to start, so one way to make the question more tractable is to impose conditions that allow for a configuration that has a particular property with a high degree of symmetry.” After figuring out the conditions they wanted to work with, Jill and Leah were able to introduce a new method for

An n6 configuration

constructing k-configurations with symmetry for a k that is greater than or equal to 3. Above is an example of the smallest known n6 configuration constructed through Leah and Jill’s method. To read Leah and Jill’s paper, go to s00454-013-9494-0

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Focus on Undergraduate Research

Undergrad gets hooked on chemistry

Students “chill” for spring break Forget palm trees and beaches. Seven undergraduates from UAF and other colleges across the U.S. and Canada found a more novel destination for spring break — the Kennicott Glacier in southern Alaska. As part of the Undergrad Field Glaciology Workshop 2013, they skied the glacier with geophysics assistant professor Erin Pettit and learned how to conduct research while being part of a remote field camp. Annelise Miska, a visiting student to UAF in fall 2012 from McGill University, went on the trip and wrote in her journal:

“During these seven days, I learned not only about techniques of radar data collection and the geomorphology of the area but also gained valuable outdoor experience. Alaska has inclement weather conditions and a climate that is unforgivable when you’re unprepared. Overall, it was an amazing week on the glacier! I am definitely going to miss indulging in three chocolate bars before noon and over eating as an excuse to generate body heat. In a final note, I am happy to report that all seven undergraduate students made a safe return to Fairbanks. All thanks to our fantastic professor.” All students kept journals. To read more, go to kennicott2013/journal

CNSM Student Travel Grant Recipients • Casey Denny, Olaniyi Ajadi and Tyson Forbush, Imperial Barrel Award Short Course, Santa Barbara CA • Marijke Habermann, European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2013, Vienna Austria • Rebecca Hewitt, 2013 Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, Minneapolis MN • Gabrielle Vance, American Geophysical Union Meeting of the Americas, Cancun, Mexico 6

Photo courtesy of Adam Taylor

By Libby Miles, Graduate Student Coordinator, Chemistry & Biochemistry Terilyn Lawson is a graduating senior majoring in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry and molecular biology. She took a few minutes from her busy class and research schedule to answer a few questions about her research. Tell us about your research. I currently work in Dr. Tom Green’s lab and am helping develop a new analytical method to detect adenosine, an important compound found throughout the body. What excites you about being a Chemistry major at UAF? Research! I also think the courses are exciting, and you can always walk out of a lecture knowing you have learned something interesting. In my analytical instrumentation course, we are analyzing consumer products. Who would have thought there is titanium in Altoids mints? As you near graduation, what undergraduate academic accomplishment are you most proud of? I’m really proud to be graduating this May with a degree in chemistry from UAF. When I first started college, I never would have thought that I would be getting a degree in the sciences, but I have had such positive experiences with professors and labs that now I’m hooked. I’m a complete chemistry nerd! What are your future plans? After graduation this coming May, I will continue on here at UAF as a graduate student pursuing an MS in chemistry.

UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

UAF Alum Soars to Great Heights — Along With the Geese


t happens to many alumni. You come from “Outside” or “America” to get a degree at UAF and think you might leave as soon as you’re done. Forty years later, you’re still in Alaska with a family, career and more harsh winter stories than you can count. Some stay because life gets in the way of their leaving. Others, like UAF alum Mike Spindler, stay because life couldn’t be as good anywhere else. He came to Alaska in September of 1974 to pursue a master’s degree in wildlife management at UAF’s College of Environmental Sciences, which later morphed into the College of Natural Science and 

Mike takes a break from bird watching at Big Minto Lake in interior Alaska during the summer of 1975, the year before he received his MS in Wildlife Management from UAF. Photo courtesy of Mike Spindler.

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“[Animals] are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the Earth.” — Henry Beston, quoted in Michael A. Spindler’s master’s thesis

The greater white-fronted goose is named for the patch of white feathers at the base of its bill. They are an important sport and subsistence species in the U.S. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Mathematics. As part of his thesis, Mike conducted the first biological survey of a dairy farm turned state refuge — Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. Since then, Mike has become a pilot, husband, father, biologist, refuge manager and musher. His entire career has been with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Alaska, working at different refuges across the state and in some of the most wild and remote places on Earth. Such experiences lend themselves to memories like when a sea of 10,000 migrating caribou passed by Mike’s field camp in northern Alaska for two days. He can also remember darker days when people and the world just didn’t make sense. Yet Mike likes to return to the moment in his professional career when dark turned to light, and a great challenge became a great accomplishment. Here is that time.

A community helps the geese

As lively fiddle music plays in the background, a mellow and steady voice chimes in, “Hi, this is Mike Spindler, your host for ‘Raven’s Story.’ In this chapter, Steven Attla from Huslia talks about hunting geese.” Another voice, a weathered tenor, starts speaking slowly and pauses between thoughts to find just the right words. Steven Attla begins, “Long time ago, we used to kill geese … we didn’t have freezers so people 8

used to make dry geese a long time ago. I remember my mother used to soak that dry geese and make soup out of it for us kids. Seems like today there’s not that much geese really.” Mike pauses the 1995 recording that is playing online and asks, “Did you hear it? That nugget in there?” Mike is referring to the part where Steven mentions that there are fewer geese. In the 1990s, Mike was a pilot and biologist for the USFWS Koyukuk/Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Alaska, which contains millions of acres of wetlands around the Koyukuk and Notwitna Rivers near the communities of Galena and Ruby. Every summer, thousands of greater white-fronted geese migrate to the refuge’s wetlands to breed and rear their young. When Mike was at the refuge, bird surveys showed that fewer geese were returning each year. This was puzzling because populations of greater whitefronted geese in other parts of Alaska were stable, or even increasing. Because the geese were doing so well everywhere else, Mike found it hard to persuade anyone that there was a problem brewing at his refuge. So Mike worked with researchers to put satellite transmitters on the geese that visited his refuge and tracked them for three years. Mike said a pattern emerged. The geese were literally the “early birds” to UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

every stop along their migration route to Mexico, but instead of getting the proverbial “worm”, Mike surmised that these geese were becoming the “worm” for sport and subsistence hunters. Greater whitefronted geese are a popular and important sport and subsistence hunting species along their migration route, which stretches across the United States, Canada and northern Mexico. Even with the satellite data and bird surveys, Mike still felt like something was missing. Quantitative data about greater white-fronted geese populations reached back to the 1980s, but Mike wanted to know what was going on before 1980. He decided to gather more data, the qualitative kind, from the people who had grown up depending on the greater white-fronted geese as a source of sustenance — the elder Koyukon Athabascans. Mike said that gathering this information was not an easy task since elders did not readily share hunting information with people outside the community. But Mike now had a family living in the bush - a wife and two children. They stayed more than a decade in the small community of Galena along the Yukon River because “there was a real sense of community. We supported one another. It was a really nice time in our lives.” Over the years, the elders began to trust Mike and one by one, they started telling him their story – and even let him record it. Mike worked with the UAF Rasmuson Library, and with the local public radio station, KIYU, to record his interviews with over 40 elders and produce a radio program series called “Raven’s Story.” It aired on UAF’s public radio station, KUAC FM, and other public stations in Alaska. Mike heard in many interviews how geese populations seemed larger when the elders were younger. With information from bird surveys, satellite

transmitters and interviews, Mike presented his case to higher officials in USFWS, who Mike said believed him. “I combined the oral history and traditional ecological knowledge with Western science to show a picture that the white-fronted geese have been declining since the 1980s and qualitative data shows they were even more abundant decades earlier,” said Mike. Changes were made to hunting regulations within the United States and Canada that relieved some of the hunting pressure off the interior Alaska greater white-fronted geese. Mike said within three years, their populations on the refuge rebounded.

Mike poses with the airplane that he flew to the USFWS refuge that he now manages, Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Mike Spindler.

Unique in the north

Some things come full circle. A master’s student for the Department of Biology & Wildlife, Lila Tauzer, recreated Mike’s study of Creamer’s Field 35 years later to see how changes in vegetation were related to changes in birds over time. Mike’s kids grew up and are now students at UAF. Mike moved back to Fairbanks , the place where he started, and became the manager of Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge. He could have retired years ago, but Mike said when you have a great team and a great job, there’s always more to do. Who knows? In 20 more years there may be another chapter of Mike’s life to write about in a CNSM newsletter. As Mike said, “I think you will find that most alumni who have stayed in Alaska have a really interesting story to tell, and the longer you stay here in the Great Land, the more there is to tell. We are unique in the north!” To access the “Raven’s Story” recordings, go to

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Expanding Collections and Minds Lectures take people beneath the ice

Eddy Carmack

They know people who know people. David Scholl and Eddy Carmack are distinguished leaders in the field of Arctic science who have made a friend or two over the years. They used their networking skills to organize a series of lectures with renowned scientists who presented their research on different aspects of the Arctic Ocean. Scientists came from all over the nation, and even the world. David is a United States Geological Survey (USGS) emeritus geologist who organized a March lecture series on how the Arctic Ocean basin formed. Eddy is a climate research oceanographer who worked with the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Canada. He organized an April workshop and lecture series on the role of the ocean in retreating sea ice. They are both “Chapman Chairs” which is an endowed position at the college for scientists who have made important contributions to their field.

David Scholl

Historic collection finds its way to UAF herbarium By Steffi Ickert-Bond and Jordan Metzgar


above   Herbarium curator Steffi Ickert-Bond and collection manager Jordan Metzgar examining some of the grass specimens from Palmer. Photo by Theresa Bakker

he herbarium at the University of Alaska Museum of the North received a valuable addition — about 8,000 historic mounted herbarium specimens from the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. An herbarium is a collection of pressed, dried plants and the center in Palmer created a collection that includes numerous “type specimens”, which are extremely valuable in classifying plants and are crucial resources for understanding the size and complexity of Alaska’s flora. The collection’s emphasis is on species that have some intersection with agriculture, and is especially strong in grasses because of the research interests of long-time curator of the herbarium in Palmer, Dr. William W. Mitchell.

The former site of the herbarium in Palmer. Photo by Monte Garroutte.


Steffi Ickert-Bond curates the herbarium at the UA Museum of the North and said the collection is a fantastic addition. “These plants haven’t been seen by outside researchers for decades. Some of them are the original specimens, which are the irrevocable basis for the scientific names of species. We are eager to digitize them so we can make them available to researchers all over the world for further examination and perhaps loan.” She will put them into the Museum’s online herbarium database, Arctos, at Steffi, who is also an associate professor of botany for the Biology & Wildlife Department, said the herbarium she manages is an extensive resource for addressing biological questions of concern for the state of Alaska. In addition to research on the taxonomy, systematics, evolution and conservation of plants, this resource also contains a cornucopia of materials for teaching students about the natural world. The transfer of specimens from Palmer to Fairbanks was supported by funds from the Provost’s office, the CNSM Dean’s office as well as funds from the UA Museum. Jordan Metzgar is a PhD student with the Biology & Wildlife Department and the herbarium collections manager for the UA Museum of the North.

UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

Department News Atmospheric Sciences

Mathematics & Statistics

• The new Atmospheric Sciences department chair starting July 1, 2013 will be Associate Professor Uma Bhatt.

• The new department chair starting July 1, 2013 will be Professor John Rhodes.

• Department Chair Nicole Mölders became Editor-in-Chief of the journal Climate ( DAS graduate student James (Mike) Madden won the National Weather Association Special Appreciation Award for 2012 along with four other colleagues. He won the award for scanning the entire archive of the National Weather Digest on the internet.

Alexei Rybkin, Professor of Mathematics, will once again be offering the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program. A small group of students, selected through a competitive application process and supervised by Alexei, will work on a real-world problem in applied mathematics. For more info:

Biology & Wildlife

Geology & Geophysics

• The new Biology & Wildlife department chair starting on July 1, 2013 will be Associate Professor Diane Wagner.

• GeoFORCE welcomes new coordinator Anne Rittgers, who will be taking a group of students from rural northern Alaska to the Grand Canyon this summer.

Chemistry & Biochemistry Assistant professor Chris Iceman has moved into a tenure-track position. Undergraduate Josh Atkinson, a member of the men’s ice hockey team and a business major, recognized Chris (circled at right) with a certificate of appreciation during an ice hockey game. Josh took Chris’ general chemistry class. • Fall 2012 marked the beginning of the Chemistry Learning Center, a support program for students that Laboratory Manager Jacy Pietsch oversees. • For the past couple years, the department has been giving the American Chemical Society (ACS) Diagnostic of Undergraduate Chemical Knowledge exit examination to departing seniors. Just as in past years, the seniors significantly outperformed national norms, averaging a 78th percentile nationwide — way to go graduates!

Physics NASA recently selected the Ionospheric Connection (ICON) Explorer for development. Led by CNSM alum, Dr. Thomas Immel (’98) at UC Berkeley, ICON is an Explorer mission (200M FY11) that will launch in late 2016 out of Florida to investigate the enhanced ionospheric plasma during geomagnetic storms. • The Infrasound Group at the Geophysical Institute is led by members of the Physics Dept. associate professor Curt Szuberla (’97), who is also chair of the department, and professor John Olson announced that the group was hiring two undergraduate researchers from CNSM, Matthew Coleman and Michael Saccone, to assist with infrasound research and station operations. The group runs a number of acoustic and seismic stations in support of the Comprehensive NuclearTest-Ban Treaty Organization, from Alaska to Antarctica. The group also recently hired CNSM graduate Kit Dawson (’11) as a permanent staff member.

Degree program changes The BS degree in Biological Sciences has three new options that will allow students to gain more in-depth knowledge: Cell & Molecular, Ecology & Evolutionary and Physiology. Students may also opt for no concentration. A capstone course where students

conduct a mentored research project is now required for all incoming students majoring in the biological sciences. For more information on all changes to the BS and BA degrees in biological sciences and who the changes apply to, please visit

Starting in the fall of 2013, students pursuing a BA degree in Earth Sciences will have three options to choose from: Earth Systems Science, Geological Hazards and Mitigation, and Secondary Education.

spring 2013 11

Outstanding Graduates Making Their Departments Proud


very year, faculty from each program within CNSM nominates a full-time, undergraduate student for the Outstanding Undergraduate Award. “It’s a really great award,” said Dean Paul Layer. “The faculty know the students best and

The Outstanding Graduates for 2013

look at their academics, community involvement and who they are as a person.”


Physics: Levi Cowan

Geology: Rebecca Parrish

• Hometown: Homer, Alaska • Currently a senior pursuing a BS in Applied Physics with a focus in Atmospheric Science • Levi says, “I grew up loving Alaskan snowstorms, and am now an avid student of hurricanes. I am at UAF to obtain a strong foundational undergraduate degree in physics, which I believe will help me become a robust and well-rounded meteorology student in graduate school.”

• Hometown: North Pole, Alaska • Currently a senior pursuing a BS in Geology with minors in Russian and Paleontology • Rebecca says, “I tend to focus my studies on marine invertebrate fossils whenever I’m able, and I have a fairly respectable ammonite collection. To those students about to take geology field camp this summer, I will say this: bring a calculator! It’s not a standard piece of camping equipment, but it is well worth it.”

Mathematics: Lander Ver Hoef • Hometown: Fairbanks, AK • Currently a senior pursing a BS in Mathematics • Lander says, “I would like to say that I’m tremendously honored to have received this award, and would like to say thank you to the Math Department for being a fantastically welcoming and energetic place to learn, and to my parents for the years of love and support they have given me.”

UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

Resources that help

students succeed Statistics: Andrew Slagle • Hometown: Two Rivers, Alaska • Currently a senior pursuing a BS in Statistics • Andrew says, “I decided to study math and statistics because I plan to teach at the secondary level. Achieving a deeper understanding of these topics will allow me to convey them to others and teach them in a way that enables kids to think critically. Having graduated from Lathrop High School and seeing others happily attend UAF and being a huge hockey fan, I must say that choosing UAF was an easy decision.”

Biological Sciences: Daniela Wilner • Hometown: Buenos Aires, Argentina • Currently a senior pursuing a BS in Biology and a BA in French • Daniela says, “I am passionate about science, especially Biology, and I have been lucky enough to be able to participate in research in the Peruvian highlands with Dr. Kevin McCracken for the last two summers, the first time as a research assistant, the second time with my own undergraduate research project.”

The Math Bridge Program will be offered this summer

The Department of Mathematics & Statistics will offer the Math Bridge Program during summer and fall of 2013. The free program is designed to help students be successful in their introductory math courses. Participating students will receive intensive, individualized review of prerequisite material for the course in which the student is enrolled. Students who complete the entire program can qualify for a 1-credit tuition waiver. For more info: www. The Chemistry Learning Center will

Wildlife Biology: Travis LaPointe • Hometown: Gorham, New Hampshire • Currently a senior pursuing a BS in Wildlife & Biology and a minor in Fisheries • Travis says, “Before coming to UAF, I served 8 years in the U.S. military. I was Honorably Discharged from the U.S. Air Force, where I maintained nuclear missile silos across Montana. While at UAF, I have banded ducks on the Chena River, dissected a caribou, made study skins of lesser scaup, trapped red-backed voles, made a museum-grade insect collection, used GPS and telemetry systems and operated the longest fish weir in the state. I sincerely feel that the Wildlife Biology program staff have been excellent over the last four years.”

Chemistry & Biochemistry: Paul Tschida • Hometown: Edinburgh, Scotland • Currently a senior pursuing a BS in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry/ Molecular Biology and a minor in Biological Science. • Paul says: “As you can probably tell, I really love science! Throughout the course of my degree program, I have done research on adenosine and have also been the vice president of the UAF American Chemical Society Student Chapter, helping to bring fun demos to the Fairbanks community and to show kids how cool science is.”

resume in fall

The Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry will offer the Chemistry Learning Center (CLC) again this fall to help students excel in the learning of chemistry. The center uses a variety of instructional methods including classes and one-on-one coaching. For more info:

spring 2013 13

Reaching Out to the Community

New UAF program draws young artists and the Fairbanks community into science By Marie Thoms, public information officer for the Institute of Arctic Biology

A Are these pictures art or science? The “Colors of Nature” program helps people see science through the lens of art. Photos by Kyle Campbell, a MS student in Biology & Wildlife who is helping with the program.

rtists and scientists often share a common goal: making the invisible visible. Yet artistically talented students, especially girls, often shy away from scientific careers. A new four-year program led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks blends the art, biology and physics of color into a series of summer academies, science cafes and activity kits designed to inspire art-interested students to enter careers in science. Laura Conner, the director of outreach for CNSM, leads the “Colors of Nature” program at UAF. She is collaborating with an astronomer and optics education expert at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, an education researcher at the University of Washington, Bothell and a curatorartist at the UA Museum of the North. A $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation funds the project. Learn more at

Getting started with Science Cafés Art captured more than just people’s eyes at a local coffeehouse. It also captured their interest in science. As part of the “Colors of Nature” project, two CNSM scientists met the Fairbanks community at a local café to discuss how research images can cross over to art. CNSM Associate Dean and professor Anupma Prakash, who specializes in remote sensing, discussed the aesthetics of satellite imagery and showed satellite images of the Earth. Assistant professor Erin Pettit studies waterfall ice and brought thermal and microscopic images of a frozen waterfall. These programs are part of a series called Science Cafés. For info on the next Science Café, go to

20 years of Science Outreach Science Potpourri celebrated 20 years of making science exciting to the Fairbanks community on Saturday, April 13. More than 500 people enjoyed a free, three-hour event filled with experiments, explosions, shows and crafts. Jacy Pietsch, the chemistry laboratory manager, took the lead in rallying scientists across campus to participate in the event. A big thanks goes out to all the faculty, students, staff, departments and donors that made this event successful. right   Professor Rainer Newberry in the Geology & Geophysics Department has a “lava” fun when it comes to preparing for Science Potpourri.


UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

Division of Research

Brain Teaser

Fishing for funding?

by Anupma Prakash, CNSM Associate Dean & Division of Research Director


or nearly a decade, I’ve seen very similar graphs projecting increasing expenditures, decreasing revenues, and declining support from federal and state agencies for research. This year, the lines on the graph were a wee bit steeper. What does that mean? How does it affect what we do as researchers? The smaller funding pool does mean a stiffer competition but, let’s face it, our world of research funding has always had uncertainties. As Walt Whitman said, “the future is no more uncertain than the present”. At the CNSM Division of Research (CDR), we have been busy streamlining our processes and support services, to meet the growing needs of our researchers. We launched our new website www.cdr. that provides a wealth of information including details on the function of the division, profile of faculty and staff, latest news and announcements, a section on frequently asked questions, and links to forms that principal investigators need for proposal submission and grant management. Please feel free to stop by our office (Reichardt 352) to discuss your next proposal needs with our proposal and grants coordinator, Terry Norman (mtnorman@; phone x6872), or to contact Heather Pyland (; phone x5191) for your purchasing and travel needs. Compared to FY12, CDR grant activities have been on a gentle rise. So far (current through March 31, 2013) in FY13, the division has submitted 38 proposals to federal and state agencies (excluding proposals to the UA Foundation); has been awarded five new competitive grants; and is administering a total of 83 active funds (including Foundation funds). Please join me in congratulating the following grant recipients: • Todd O’Hara, Understanding Hg Variability in Alaska Halibut (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation) Pinnipeds Contaminants Ecology (Alaska Division of Fish and Game) Contaminant Testing (The Alaska Sea Otter and Steller Sea Lion Commission)

• Abel Bult-Ito, Alaska Science High School Symposium (Academy of Applied Science)

• Nancy Bigelow, Exploring Intrasite Variability at Upper Sun River (National Science Foundation)

Can you find at least three differences between these pictures? A time-lapse camera caught the UAF mascot “recalibrating” Chemistry Chair Bill Simpson’s research equipment in the Arctic. The hard-to-see polar bear is in the first picture, its head just visible behind the equipment. Simpson uses the equipment to study arctic air chemistry. This machine is no longer working — or standing — but Simpson said it worked well beyond its projected life span. Photos courtesy of Bill Simpson.

spring 2013 15

Updates with the Advanced Instrumentation Laboratory A whale of a story that begins with a tooth

W AIL director Ken Severin welcomes the microprobe to his “family” of advanced instruments.

Welcome to the family


he new instrument in the AIL lab sounds like something out of a Star Trek movie. Imagine you’re on the spaceship “Enterprise” and an unknown alien beams down a blob of green slime. You need to know what it is, right? So you put it under the new JEOL Microprobe JXA-8530F which is a specialized electron scanning microscope. The Microprobe has an electron gun that “shoots” electrons like bullets into different samples. This causes the electrons within the sample to get knocked out of place and “all shaken up”. The atoms in the sample scramble to replace their electrons, but not before they lose a certain amount of energy in the process. Because the amount of energy lost depends on the type of atom releasing it, the microprobe can measure the lost energy to figure out what and how many atoms are in a sample. It turns out the green slime is well … you can finish that story. But the story of the new microprobe is just beginning in the lab. The one-million-dollar, two-ton scanning electron microscope is a much-needed piece of equipment since the other scanning electron microscope in the lab is almost 30 years old. The chip that powers the old probe is the same one Apple used to power its computers in the 1980s. The new microprobe is much more sensitive to the signals coming off the samples and has a variety of detectors to gather different kinds of information. “It will quickly be put into use,” said Ken. “We are working on a lot of diverse projects from finding “invisible” gold at Pogo Mine to looking at fish ear bones for a salmon hatchery.” Ken said he is happy with the microprobe — their latest addition. “It’s part of the family now.”


hat can a whale tooth tell you? It grows in yearly layers, much like a tree, and you can count the layers to tell how old the whale is. The tooth is also an enamel and chronological record of all the things the whale ate throughout its life. Knowing this, Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Mark Nelson decided to sample the yearly layers of teeth from the Beluga whales that dwell in the waters of the Cook Inlet south of Anchorage. This subpopulation of Beluga whales is endangered, their populations crashing from 1,300 three decades ago to 300 today. Some people say subsistence whaling is to blame, but after that practice was stopped in 1999, the Beluga whales of Cook Inlet have failed to recover. Scientists are not sure where to find the answers, and so they are casting a wide-sweeping net to gather as much information as possible about the whales, hoping the answer will eventually come into focus. As part of that effort, Mark uses an AIL instrument called a MicroMill to help him learn what the Beluga whales of Cook Inlet have been dining on. The instrument has a dentist’s drill and a camera screen that can capture an image of the whale tooth. Mark plots a map of where the drill should target the tooth and then the automated drill then grinds up tiny amounts of the whale tooth’s different layers into a powdery dust. Mark takes the samples to the the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility, which can test the sample and identify the types of animals the whale ate. The Advanced Instrument Laboratory is a multi-instrument resource for researchers across Alaska. It specializes in surface and elemental analysis and electron microscopy. To find out more about AIL, visit or call 907-474-5281.

It’s true that you are what you eat. Alaska Department of Fish & Game scientists will sample and analyze this beluga whale tooth to find out what it has been eating.

UAF College of Natural Science & Mathematics

In memory of Ted Fathauer Ted Fathauer loved weather. His career, studies and passion revolved around it. He graduated from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences last summer with an MS thesis on the relationship between pollen concentrations and weather in Fairbanks. He recently retired as weather forecaster with the National Weather Service, his employer of 44 years. He was eager to pursue a PhD degree with the atmospheric sciences department this fall. He passed away on January 20, 2013. Ted’s heart was also with UAF. He contributed to the university, was in the University of Alaska College of Fellows and on the board of Friends of the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

He will be greatly missed.

Photo by Dee Daniels

There will be a celebration of his life at 1 p.m. May 11, 2013, in the UAF Davis Concert Hall.

spring 2013 17


College of Natural Science and Mathematics University of Alaska Fairbanks P.O. Box 755940 Fairbanks, AK 99775-5940

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front cover   Danielle Serratos holds the fossil plesiosaurus skull she restored. UAF is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution.

Save the Date: August 22! Celebrate the opening of the new Margaret Murie Building for life sciences. There will be tours, food and activities. Ribbon Cutting: Thursday afternoon • Time TBA For a full schedule, go to

The Reichardt Building basks in the fall sun. Photo by Mist D’June-Gussak.

Postively Charged  

News from the College of Natural Science and Mathematics.

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