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Geology and Geophysics Faculty receive Science Initiative seed grants

May 7, 2019
Fossil Leaf
This 48-million-year-old fossil leaf was found near Dubois, in an area that today is covered by conifer forest. As part of a grant she received, Ellen Currano, an associate professor of botany, will lead a team that will study fossils like this to reconstruct climate and vegetation in Wyoming during the warmest interval since dinosaurs went extinct. (Ellen Currano Photo)

Faculty from the Department of Geology & Geophysics won two of the thirteen recent UW Science Initiative awards. The goal of this seed grant program is to stimulate new, innovative, cutting-edge research projects in the sciences that have promise for successful, sustained and substantial external competitive funding. The most competitive proposals will address the interdisciplinary nature of the research and will involve research teams of faculty from multiple departments, colleges, fields or disciplines at UW.

“These seed grants are expected to encourage 30-plus competitive grant proposals over the next two years to federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy, Department of Defense, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institutes of Health and United States Geological Survey,” says Tabatha Spencer, senior program coordinator for UW’s Science Initiative.

The sucessful Geology and Geophyics proposals are:

1) “REE Enrichment in Wyoming Roll-Front Uranium Deposits,”. Simone Runyon, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics, is the PI. Susan Swapp, a senior research scientist in geology and geophysics; Carol Frost, a professor in geology and geophysics; Erin Phillips, an assistant research scientist in the School of Energy Resources (SER); and Robert Gregory, project geologist with the Wyoming State Geological Survey, will serve as co-PIs.

2) “Back to the Future: Interdisciplinary Research on 50-Million-Year-Old Ecosystems Will Allow Wyoming to Better Prepare for the Year 2140,”. Ellen Currano (PI) Laura Vietti; and Mark Clementz. Collaborators include the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, University of Cincinnati and the University of New Hampshire.lrators include the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, University of Cincinnati and the University of New Hampshire.

Ellen Currano and her team will investigate ecosystems in the Wind River Basin from the Early Eocene climatic optimum, which occurred approximately 48 million-53 million years ago.

“This was the warmest time since the dinosaurs died, when the poles were ice-free and broad-leaved subtropical forests covered Wyoming,” Currano explains. “There are fundamental gaps in our knowledge about how Earth works during these hothouse times and, if we continue to burn fossil fuels unchecked, we are likely headed back to the Eocene. We plan to collect paleontological and geochemical data to better understand climate, forests and microbes in the hothouse.”

Currano hopes that the close collaboration established among three of UW’s five paleontologists on campus will help propel UW to a top-10 national ranking in paleontology. She says the team aspires to follow the model of the University of Cincinnati, which achieved this when its four paleontologists and interdisciplinary collaborators focused research on their local, world-famous marine fossil beds.

“Wyoming has unparalleled Cenozoic terrestrial fossil deposits, and I think we are poised to become one of the premier paleontology programs in the U.S.,” Currano says. “And, yes, we will be using the results of this grant to apply for larger NSF grants.”

The 13 projects chosen for funding came from 41 projects originally submitted. Primary submission criteria were: proposal is interdisciplinary in nature and requires substantial effort from faculty spanning either two or more departments, colleges, fields or disciplines; clearly describes the research to be performed and explicitly addresses why participation across traditional boundaries is required; clearly shows the innovative and/or cutting-edge nature of the research; and describes an explicit plan for a larger extramural grant proposal in the near future, with a specific funding agency, program and deadline.

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Laramie, WY 82071-2000

Phone: 307-766-3386

Fax: 307-766-6679


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