UAS attracts student scientists in the summer

Posted: Friday, August 06, 2004

Mike Glista points out features on a stuffed Myotis lucifugus, the little brown bat, on Thursday at the University of Alaska Southeast. Glista is a student from Kalamazoo College in Michigan, doing research on bat calls. He is one of nine students from around the country attending the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at UAS this summer.

Nine college students from around the United States are getting a taste of what it's like to study Alaska's environment with the University of Alaska Southeast this summer.

For Anchorage native Stephanie Sell, that included a month camped on the Arctic's iced-up Beaufort Sea studying ringed seals that ended with a heart-pounding race to escape breaking, flooding ice.

She and some colleagues received a warning phone call about ice conditions and raced out on a snowmobile to collect expensive monitoring equipment still attached to a female seal. Fortunately, the seal surfaced at an ice hole at the right moment.

"There was no way we could have made it without leaving then," Sell said.

Mike Glista, 21, of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, has been sitting in a UAS lab trying to help solve some mysteries about Southeast Alaska's six or seven bat species. He is analyzing more than 20 hours of squeaky bat calls recorded in Juneau in the early 1990s.

The seven other students are involved in projects ranging from surveys of endangered birds and deep sea crabs to studying the toxic effects - at the molecular level - of oil spills on laboratory fish.

Their work is funded by the National Science Foundation through its Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program. The grant for UAS was awarded several years ago, said university spokesman Kevin Myers.

Myers said faculty are pleased with this year's students and anticipate they will go on to do good work in their fields.

"It's a great experience for people our age," said Sell, who recently transferred to UAS from Western Washington University, where she couldn't get in overcrowded classes required for her major.

"A lot of big schools don't have (research) opportunities. That's a huge advantage here and plus, Alaska is just a great place to be," Sell added.

The students' mentors, such as physics professor Matt Heavner, appreciate their enthusiasm.

Heavner said of Glista, "I don't think the project could happen without him."

Heavner has a strong interest in signal processing and applied for funding from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the bat project.

"I asked for a student to help out on the project (in the summer), and the timing was just perfect," he said.

Cirse Gonzalez, of Duke University, said she has enjoyed working with her mentor, UAS professor Ginny Eckert, analyzing a larvae discovery that eventually could have an impact on crab fisheries. Not long ago, Eckert and other scientists discovered that jellyfish in Glacier Bay had "a ton of crab larvae" attached to them, Gonzalez said. Though the "jellyfish-riding larvae" phenomenon has been documented elsewhere, it hasn't been in Alaska, she said.

Now Gonzalez is busy in the UAS crab lab, documenting all the larvae species to be found using a microscope.

"I'm identifying them by their spines," she said.

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