Research Experience for Undergraduates

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Research Experience for Undergraduates in Environmental Sciences: Shima’ nahasdza’a’n bee ‘iina’ (Mother Earth Give Life) is an intensive 10-week research experience that take place each summer and is designed to introduce students to the world of scientific research. This Northern Arizona University (NAU) program is funded by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.

Students are selected for the program on the basis of the following criteria: satisfactory performance in at least one science course, lack of access to research opportunities, attendance at a Tribal or community college, interest in pursuing a scientific career, alignment of student and mentor interests,  match with program goals, and overall academic performance and potential.

The program begins with a weeklong course on the conduct of research in environmental sciences at the Merriam Powell Research Station, which is housed on the grounds of The Arboretum at Flagstaff. The arboretum is 5 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona, and surrounded by ponderosa pine forest.

Following this experience, students are ready to return to the NAU campus and spend nine weeks working with a faculty or graduate student mentor on an independent research project matching their interests.

The on-campus portion of the program includes: (1) seminars on career options, research skills development, and Native American and western science perspectives; (2) individual consultation on research paper and poster presentation development; and (3) social activities.

The program offers (1) a $525 per week stipend, (2) partial food and travel reimbursements, and (3) housing.

>> Download 2016 REU flyer

Program elements 

Field work at The Arboretum of Flagstaff
During the first week of the program, participants conduct field work at The Arboretum at Flagstaff designed to give them hands-on experience conducting a scientific investigation. As a group, participants will develop hypotheses, design experiments, collect data, and report results. Although this field work experience may not directly relate to a participant’s individual research project, it serves as a “training ground” for the rigors of developing a hypothesis, gathering data, and communicating results.
Research experience
During the final nine weeks of the program, participants have the opportunity to gain research experience. This portion of the program blends learning science and developing job skills. Participants will work under the guidance of a faculty mentor and experienced students. The goal is to expose program participants to the rigors of working in a research group in a format that teaches them the skills they will need to succeed. The daily schedule depends on the type of research project the student selects and may range from making observations using a microscope or mapping trees outdoors to analyzing data or writing up research results.
Tuesday evening class meetings
The program includes a Tuesday evening class that primarily focuses on communicating research results. Participants will be given weekly writing assignments designed to help them develop their science writing skills. The class will focus on individual sections of a standard science paper beginning with the "Introduction" and moving through the "Methods," "Results," and "Discussion" sections.  During the final two weeks of class, participants will learn the key elements required to create a good scientific research poster, including design, readability, and research content. Finally, guest speakers will talk about career options, scholarship opportunities, and graduate and undergraduate research.

Mentors and projects

Diana Anderson, Quaternary Studies and Geology
Dr. Anderson is interested in recognizing land-use changes on the Navajo Nation using aerial photography. Much literature describes the impact of grazing on the semiarid portions of the Navajo Nation since the turn of the century. Comparison of narrative observations made during the Beale Expedition of 1853, photographs taken around the turn of the century, and photography taken at the same site reveals many changes to upland and riparian areas.
Matthew Bowker, Forestry
The dry places of the world have a living "skin" which protects the soil surface, a biological soil crust (biocrust) composed of cyanobacteria, mosses, lichens and other organisms. Unfortunately, this type of community is easily lost due to human disturbance. Our lab is actively researching methods to culture the organisms that compose biocrusts so that they may be used to restore disturbed ecosystems. We measure their photosynthetic efficiency, fixation of nitrogen, and aggregation of soil. We have been able to grow many biocrust components in a greenhouse setting, much faster than they would regrow in nature. We are also beginning to test methods for reintroduction of our greenhouse-cultured biocrusts to the field, and monitor their contributions to ecosystem function. Our study sites include the Great Basin, Chihuahuan Desert, Colorado Plateau, and grasslands of Montana.
Neil Cobb, Biology
Much of Dr. Cobb's research focuses on two areas of investigation. His first are of interest is conceptually based on arthropod biodiversity, examining the responsiveness of arthropod communities to habitat change (e.g., drought, fire, grazing), and targets national parks as field sites. This body of research is conducted through the Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity, which also conducts some population-level studies on insects. Dr. Cobb's second area of interest involves addressing a variety of ecological questions that can be answered using GIS and remote sensing. This research can include a variety of different types of plants and animals. This work is conducted through the he Geospatial Research and Information Laboratory.
Matthew Gage, Chemistry
There are numerous environmental factors that have been proposed to lead to DNA damage and subsequently to cancer formation. One such environmental factor is uranium exposure, which has been potentially linked to DNA damage. One of the key proteins involved in protecting the cell’s DNA is the p53 protein. p53 recognizes damaged DNA and causes increases of other proteins that are involved in DNA repair. We are investigating the formation and function of the p53 protein. This particular project is focused on understanding how uranium affects the function of p53. Students working on this project will work with both Dr. Gage and with other students in the lab to learn protein purification and protein refolding techniques, along with standard tests of p53 function. These will be used to determine if uranium affects the function of p53, providing a potential model for the effects of uranium within the cell.
Catherine Gehring, Biology
The goal of my research program is to better understand the functioning of fungi in natural and managed systems.  One way that members of my lab group and I work towards this goal is to examine how abiotic and biotic factors interact to affect the abundance and community composition of plant-associated fungi and how changes in these parameters then feedback to affect the performance of host plants. We combine field and laboratory experiments with microscopic and molecular analysis of fungal communities.  Current projects explore how host plant genetics influences fungal abundance and diversity, the impact of climate change on interactions between host plants, fungi and insects, and the belowground mechanisms by which invasive plants may harm native plants.  We also have an interest in tropical systems where we have examined interactions among vertebrates, plants and mycorrhizal fungi in addition to other issues.
Kevin Grady, Forestry
Our group, The Adaptive Restoration Community (ARC) is designed to promote holistic, comprehensive, and adaptive strategies for restoring terrestrial and riparian ecosystems, train the next generation of restoration practitioners, and develop a centralized coordination network for long-term effectiveness monitoring of ecosystem restoration in the western United States. Novel strategies for increasing restoration effectiveness are essential for coping with multiple environmental challenges to restoration including climate change, invasive exotic species, and habitat degradation. Such strategies include genetics-based approaches that identify superior source populations and genotypes that will do best in a given environment. Interns that join our lab will be exposed to restoration issues in some of the most beautiful locations in the world, and design and implement experiments related to restoration.
Paul Gremillion, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Dr. Gremillion's research examines human impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Recent research investigates linkages between mercury loading to reservoirs and wildfires in their watersheds. It is suspected that mercury becomes stored in plant and soil material in watersheds, is then released by wildfires,and finally makes its way to reservoirs through storm events following wildfires. To search for these linkages, sediment cores from several lakes in northern Arizona will be analyzed. These cores show distinct zones of charcoal that indicate fire events and coarse sediment bands that indicate erosive events. Tests on these cores and a limited amount of field work to recover additional sediment samples will be conducted during the summer.
Jani Ingram, Chemsitry
The Ingram group is investigating interfacial chemistries of biosurfactants and mineral oxide. These studies are focused on understanding the role of biosurfactants in the fate and transport of metals in the environment.
Tom Kolb, Forestry
Tom Kolb's research group is studying the impact of forest management thinning and wildfire on exchange of a key greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and energy, and water between ponderosa pine forests and the atmosphere. Additionally, the group is working on understanding interactions between forest fires and mortality caused by bark beetles, and the decline of high-elevation forests.
Nathan Nieto , Biology
Our research focuses on the ecological maintenance and evolution of infectious diseases in wild animals and how this translates into transmission of disease to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife. We use a mixture of microbiology, molecular biology, phylogenetics and population ecology to investigate empirical infectious disease dynamics in wild animal populations. Much of our work is conducted on reservoirs or the identification of reservoir hosts for zoonotic pathogens.
Catherine Propper, Biology
Dr. Propper uses amphibians as model systems to understand how environmental contaminants impact development, reproduction, and behavior. Specifically, work in her lab tests hypotheses regarding whether individual compounds and complexes mixes impact physiological function.
Diane M. Stearns, Chemistry
The Stearns lab looks at how uranium and chromium interact with DNA to cause mutations that may lead to cancer. We expose isolated DNA or cultured cells to metal complexes and investigate the resulting DNA lesions, for example, strand breaks, crosslinks, and metal-DNA adducts.
Thomas Whitham and Amy Whipple, Biology
This group of researchers is interested in drought effects in pinyon pine communities. This research area involves ongoing ecological studies in the piñon-juniper woodland surrounding Flagstaff, Arizona. For two decades, this research group has examined environmental controls on interactions among plants, fungi, bacteria, arthropods, and vertebrates through monitoring efforts and long-term experiments that allow them to address the importance of genetically-based resistance traits in piñon pines on community and ecosystem processes. With recent acquisition of new tools for genetic and molecular analysis, researchers are now able to examine how the presence or absence of individual genes translates to higher levels of organization, including population genetics, microbial and plant community composition, and ecosystem function. Similarly, researchers can probe the influence of environmental perturbations, such as the recent drought in the Southwest, on the genetic structure and distribution of pinyon pine trees and dependent

2016 program dates and application deadline

The 2016 Research Experience for Undergraduates in Environmental Sciences program runs from May 24 to July 29, 2016. The application deadline is March 11, 2016.

>>Download the 2016 Application

Contact information 

Ted Martinez 
Phone: 928-523-3383 

Dr. Amy Whipple
Phone: 928-523-8727