Joint effort: Astronaut Jerry Ross gives a tour of the International Space Station.
Rediscovering Lewis and Clark: A UM program will host a new National Lewis and Clark Education Center.
Out of the Classroom, Into the Field: Teachers spend part of their summer at UM, learning research skills in the Montana Teachers Investigate Ecology Project.
Exercising Minds: Montana students win big at Detroit's International Science and Engineering Fair.
by Cary Shimek
Hurt, a UM senior from Stevensville, is studying whether keen canine noses can be used to distinguish between black bear and grizzly bear scat. Human bear experts cant distinguish definitively between the two types without resorting to expensive laboratory analysis, so if Hurt is successful, her trained and accurate dogs could dramatically reduce costs for future bear researchers.
Hurt received funding for her research from UMs Integrated Biological Science Courses Organized Around Research Experience Project Project IBS-CORE for short. She and the 17 other undergraduate IBS-CORE research fellows conducting research this summer receive a monthly stipend of $750 for three months, plus a budget of up to $1,000 for research materials and travel.
Usually students arent expected to contribute to science until we get our degrees, Hurt says. This is a great opportunity. I expect this project to be one of the most valuable things I will do in college.
She already has learned that the properly identified bear scat she needs for her research is as good as gold, since it must come from labs or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cages where only one variety of bear is penned. Once the scat is procured, she places it in a scent box to teach dogs who love chasing balls. If they correctly identify the scent she is looking for, the dogs borrowed from the Missoula Humane Society get a ball as a reward.
Funding for Project IBS-CORE comes from a prestigious, four-year $1.4 million grant awarded to the Division of Biological Sciences by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a Maryland-based, nonprofit, medical research organization. The purpose of the four-year grant is to involve more undergraduate students in biological research from the freshman to the senior level.
Associate Professor Carol Brewer wrote the grant request and directs Project IBS-CORE, which is in its second year.
We have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from last years 10 Project IBS-CORE researchers, Brewer says. Many of those students have moved on to work as assistants in research labs at UM and other research labs across the U.S.
From cougars to climate change
Forestry Associate Professor Paul Alaback is mentoring Jeremy Botz, a UM senior doing IBS-CORE research this summer in his homeland of Kodiak, Alaska. Using aerial photographs taken of Kodiak Island since the 1930s, along with current surveys, Botz will study the migration rates of spruce trees to see if they are a measure of climate change. Using his dads fishing boat to access remote areas, Botz also will take cores from dominant trees to determine their ages and gain information that predates photographic records.
If Botz learns that Kodiak timberlines are moving upward and that spruce trees are migrating into areas that were formerly tundra, Alaback says, this might indicate regional or even global warming is taking place. He said relatively pristine areas such as Kodiak Island are perfect for this type of research.
Strengthening UMs core
Last year, for example, four new intro-level biology courses were implemented, allowing incoming freshmen in UMs honors program to begin their own research within days. The faculty-designed classes were team-taught, a novel bonding experience for the instructors, and Brewer says five more IBS-CORE courses are slated to begin this fall.
Students in the division, especially those who have done summer research projects, also are being encouraged to do a senior thesis. Brewer says this provides them with a tremendous experience that takes their learning to another level.
I think the thesis sets them apart and may lead to a journal publication, she says. It takes their work to that final level, since science isnt really science until it is shared.
Brewer says the IBS-CORE grant has allowed the biology division to significantly upgrade its research equipment, especially computers. Last year, for example, the first biology undergraduate computer lab went on line, and Brewer expects about 100 new computers with up-to-date software to be installed in the department before the grant runs its course.
Brewer says the biology division is doing a self-study on its growing research-orientated offerings to see if students are learning more effectively. She believes the grant allows faculty to better connect their teaching to student learning by giving students more opportunities to actually do biology.
Project IBS-CORE has really put Montana on the national radar screen for research in science teaching and education at the university level, she says. A lot of people are keeping an eye on what we are doing. This is all pretty exciting.