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University of Wyoming
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UWyo Magazine

May 2016 | Vol. 17, No. 3

As a paleontologist, geology and geophysics Associate Professor Mark Clementz collaborates with researchers around the world.

As a paleontologist, geology and geophysics Associate Professor Mark Clementz collaborates with researchers around the world.

International Collaborations

UW professors make a global impact and expand student opportunities through international research.

By Micaela Myers

Our day-to-day lives are increasingly global and increasingly connected, as are the issues of the day. By working together with experts from around the globe, we can find new perspectives and better solutions to the problems we face.

“If you aren’t careful, it’s easy to live within a research bubble and think just about how your own research program ties to the local environment,” says geology and geophysics Associate Professor Mark Clementz. “But the more work you do, the more you realize that the connections you make with research outside this country gives you new ideas, angles and perspectives. In the end, we’re not alone. It’s a big world out there, and we should try to make sure Wyoming is a part of that.”

University of Wyoming professors and students conduct research in many fields around the world. Here, we spotlight a few of those researchers and how international collaborations help advance both education and research.

Studying the Past

As a paleontologist, Clementz’s research focuses on the ecology of the past, specifically the evolution of coastal ecosystems and the role of vertebrates within those ecosystems. Many of his projects incorporate international collaboration.

Last year he was on sabbatical working with researchers at Museum für Naturkunde, the natural history museum in Berlin, studying the development of the middle ear in cetaceans. “The middle ear is very dense and preserves really well,” Clementz says. This is key for groups that lack teeth to study, such as blue whales. “The ears also grow over the animal’s life, so from an isotopic standpoint, we could potentially use that as an archive of diet and ecological information for both living and extinct species.”

The research was supported by an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation fellowship, a prestigious German-based foundation that sponsors research at the highest level. Working in Berlin provided access to specialized equipment. “They have a micro-CT facility, so we could take specimens that were roughly the size of a softball and put them into the chamber and scan both the internal and the external structures,” he says.

The Humboldt Foundation also provides a venue for ongoing collaboration, Clementz says. “They have an online network, where they encourage you to make connections with researchers in other fields. It’s great to have more of a global perspective.”

Clementz is continuing his work on the inner ear with UW colleague Ken Sims, as well as his students.

Berlin was only Clementz’s latest in a string of international research collaborations. Two years ago he worked with a professor at the University of Arizona on a field program in Tajikistan, where they spent four weeks collecting sediment samples. “We just had a paper come out in Earth and Planetary Science Letters on some of the work that came out of that,” Clementz says. “We were looking at the timing of the collision of Asia and India and the uplift of the Pamir Mountains in the region. Based on that work, we were able to better constrain the timing of when that event happened.

“I think the international aspects to the research I’ve been doing have been incredibly rewarding,” Clementz says. “I’m very happy with the connections I’ve made with folks in Argentina, Egypt, Tajikistan, New Zealand and Australia. It’s opened the doors to more possibilities and directions.”

He says that those opportunities extend to his students: “Think in the future of helping your students find employment in academic careers—having those international connections opens doors.”

Professor Bruce Parkinson, who researches solar energy conversion, takes a group of students to see the solar panels atop the Energy Innovation Center.

Professor Bruce Parkinson, who researches solar energy conversion, takes a group of students to see the solar panels atop the Energy Innovation Center.

Capturing the Sun

School of Energy Resources and Department of Chemistry Professor Bruce Parkinson, the J.E. Warren Professor of Energy and Environment, made international connections early in his career, and those connections have led to ongoing collaborations.

Parkinson conducts research in a number of areas, including the basic science of solar energy conversion. “A big problem with solar is that the sun doesn’t shine at night, so you need to store it,” he says. “A lot of people around the world are working on solar energy storage, including some large cooperative efforts in the United States and one in Germany that I’m especially involved in.

“We work on converting sunlight directly to fuel by splitting water with sunlight to produce hydrogen fuel,” Parkinson continues. “The problem is that we don’t have the materials to do it so I came up with an idea where we use combinatorial chemistry to rapidly create and screen a lot of new materials.

“If we’re successful in finding useful materials for splitting water with sunlight, then we can go to the next step: making prototype devices, tweaking up the efficiency and seeing if this will be economically competitive.”

In 2015, Parkinson received an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Prize. As part of that award, Parkinson spent time last spring and summer working with fellow solar energy researchers in Germany.

“Another part of my group’s research is related to solar energy conversion at a fundamental level,” Parkinson says. “We’re looking at electron transfer and the process of absorption of photons, trying to get more than one electron out of each photon to increase efficiency at a very fundamental level.”

You may have seen the movie The Martian, and another of Parkinson’s endeavors sheds light on a discovery made after the book was written. “There was a discovery [in 2008] that the near surface of Mars has a high concentration of a rather unusual anion called perchlorate that is toxic to humans at low levels. It is not naturally abundant on earth, but it’s the most abundant negatively charged ion in the near surface soil of Mars,” Parkinson says. “In the movie they didn’t take into account that perchlorate is toxic, or (the character Mark Watney) wouldn’t be growing his potatoes and dragging soil into his habitat.”

There was an accepted conventional atmospheric chemistry explanation for the presence of perchlorate, but Parkinson and UW geology and geophysics Professor Carrick Eggleston came up with an alternative theory.

“We had an experiment showing we could make the stuff just with natural minerals, sunlight and chloride, which is in the soil there,” Parkinson says. “Now our explanation is actually the leading one.”

Whether Parkinson’s next big idea takes him to Germany or to Mars (at least on paper), there’s no doubt more compelling ideas are on the horizon.

Professor Jo Albers (second from left) and colleagues near the Amani Nature Reserve in Tanzania, where they are studying forest fragmentation. Courtesy Photo

Professor Jo Albers (second from left) and colleagues near the Amani Nature Reserve in Tanzania, where they are studying forest fragmentation. Courtesy Photo.

Researching People and Protected Areas

Jo Albers is the Knobloch Wyoming Excellence Chair in Conservation Economics and Finance and Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Economics professor. She studies natural resource management in low-income countries, with an emphasis on biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. Her research on protected areas and how their associated policies affect local populations takes her all over the world.

In 2013, Albers conducted research as a Fulbright Scholar in Tanzania, interviewing managers of protected areas and people in the surrounding villages about the positives and negatives of living near protected parks. Now, Albers is applying her bio-economic model to marine protected areas (MPAs).

“We look at MPAs with different restrictions and determine how these restrictions affect the goals of the protected area and the rural people,” Albers says. “My central contribution is how these two fit together: What’s the impact of ecological policies on people, and how can you be more successful with your conservation policies when you think about how people respond?

“We’re comparing the MPA policy in Costa Rica to that of Tanzania.

“Until recently, my work has focused on terrestrial protected areas and forest ecosystem management,” she says. But she saw many of the same pitfalls arising in new MPA implementation as seen in land conservation. “We’re hoping that this work will inform how countries expand and manage MPA networks.”

Albers also collaborates with Haub School colleague Nicole Korfanta, who has researched how forest fragmentation in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania affects bird populations. Albers is looking at land-use decisions and how to reduce forest fragmentation from a human perspective.

“We’re thinking about what policies could be implemented that would reduce the fragmentation so that you get both effective income benefits and bird population conservation benefits,” Albers says. “It’s a truly interdisciplinary perspective, which I think is really important in these international settings where property rights and markets don’t necessarily work the way we expect them to work here (in the United States), and the ecosystems work differently too.”

In addition, Albers is working on a collaborative project studying sea turtle conservation in regard to egg laying in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. “We’re looking to characterize both the range of ecological settings and the range of community socioeconomic settings and develop a framework for policies that will lead to turtle conservation that reflects the specific bio-socioeconomic setting without undue burden on the rural people,” Albers says.

She brings her international experience to the classroom. “I think it’s really important for Wyoming students to have that broader international perspective and then to tie those scenarios to related situations in our state, such as wildlife migration in the Serengeti and in western Wyoming,” Albers says. “I also want to develop short courses abroad where we look at people-park conflicts and policies to resolve those conflicts.”

Ecosystem science and management Professor Alexandre Latchininsky’s research helps control locusts and grasshoppers worldwide.

Ecosystem science and management Professor Alexandre Latchininsky’s research helps control locusts and grasshoppers worldwide.

Combating Grasshoppers and Locusts

It’s something out of a horror movie: swarms of locusts swooping down and destroying crops and livelihoods. But it happens. In fact, ecosystem science and management Professor Alexandre Latchininsky says 10 percent of the world’s population is affected by locusts. In rangelands like Wyoming, grasshoppers can also be detrimental. “Even if it is a non-outbreak year, grasshoppers take off roughly 25 percent of vegetation,” Latchininsky says of rangeland impacts. “When there’s an outbreak, it can go up to 100 percent.” This is harmful to grazing livestock and wildlife.

Latchininsky, who originally hails from Russia, has dedicated his career to locust and grasshopper control worldwide, including pioneering work on remote-sensing applications.

“Most of the time locusts live in very remote places,” he says. “They can quickly build their populations if the conditions are favorable for them. Then they fly out and create all these problems for agriculture and pastures. We need to monitor them very well—where they are, their hotspots and breeding areas. One of the methods we developed is remote sensing—using satellite images and GIS to cover those areas, which are difficult to access. These images can produce meaningful information regarding where we have locusts. We provide the recipe for local locust managers for targeted survey and targeted treatments.”

For North American grasshopper treatments, Latchininsky worked with Professor Jeff Lockwood and his team on an economical and targeted treatment that earned them the International Integrated Pest Management Award. “We know where the infestations of grasshoppers are, but we don’t want to blanket them with insecticides, so we developed a method called reduced agent and area treatments,” Latchininsky says. “We apply lower-than-usual doses of insecticide that is not broad spectrum. It is harmless for birds and mammals. We apply it not in blankets but stripes, so we reduce the cost and environmental impacts.”

Latchininsky has many partnerships, including CIRAD Agricultural Research for Development in France, Novosibirsk State University in Russia, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Australian Plague Locust Commission and the USDA. In fact, he’s conducted research and trainings and given presentations in 21 countries and hosted visiting scientists from China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Australia, Morocco, Mexico and Mauritania. He also teaches and mentors UW students. In 2014, he was honored with the UW Faculty Achievement in Internationalization award.

What’s next for Latchininsky? “One of the things we’ve been working on for many years and are on the brink of finally accomplishing is biological control of locusts and grasshoppers. This means the use of pathogens—microbes that can affect grasshoppers but will not harm anything else.”

Neuroscience graduate student Dori Pitynski-Miller

Neuroscience graduate student Dori Pitynski-Miller.

Students Abroad

University of Wyoming professors aren’t the only ones conducting international research. UW students also participate in research around the globe. Neuroscience doctoral student Dori Pitynski-Miller of Elk Grove Village, Ill., spent last summer at King’s College in London.

“My research is looking at dietary salt and how that can affect metabolism, weight gain and reproduction, specifically puberty,” she says. “One of the things that we found here was that a high salt diet significantly delayed puberty. Now we’re trying to figure out how it’s delaying puberty.

“We think the neurotransmitter vasopressin may be playing a role,” Pitynski-Miller says. Her adviser, Professor Donal Skinner, introduced her to London Professor Kevin O’Byrne, and Pitynski-Miller jumped at the chance to work with him due to his expertise in two areas needed to test vasopressin: implanting a brain pump into mice and taking small, frequent blood samples.

“Working with their lab and seeing someone else’s point of view was amazing,” she says. “It streamlined the process of getting started and continuing the work here.”

Supporting International Research

The University of Wyoming Center for Global Studies aims to bring the world to Wyoming and Wyoming to the world. Over the last two years, the center has provided $200,000 to fund student and faculty international research projects.

“Part of the role of the university is to broaden the horizons for our students,” says the center’s director, Jean Garrison, a professor of global and area studies and political science. “I don’t think people understand how unique UW is in terms of emphasizing internationalization. This is one of our areas of excellence.”

Garrison observed, however, that there was a lack of funding for faculty international research. “Faculty members have a multiplier effect,” she says. “They’re the ones who go out and with their own expertise create the exchanges that our students enjoy, open research opportunities for students and bring expertise back to campus. Providing faculty funding was a very important factor in creating the Center for Global Studies.”

Visit uwyo.edu/globalcenter to learn more.

Center for Global Studies


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Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
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Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

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