Grants fund students studying Appalachians, lightning, aquatic microbes

geology samplesSUNY Oswego has awarded campus funding to three more student-faculty pairs to pursue research projects this academic year under its Student-Faculty Collaborative Challenge Grant program.

Receiving grants of $2,500 each this fall are:

- Dr. Paul Tomascak of the college’s geology program and Claire Kauffman of Oswego, a junior geology major, to study zircon crystals from granitic rocks of the Maine Appalachians for insight into the chronology and process of mountain building

- Dr. Scott Steiger of the college’s meteorology faculty and Jason Keeler of White Plains, a senior meteorology major, to improve the ability to forecast lightning in lake-effect snowstorms

- Dr. Anthony Ouellette of the college’s biological sciences faculty and Anders Peterson of North Syracuse, a senior majoring in biology, to elucidate the chemical interactions of microbes in aquatic environments

Last spring the first of this year’s grants went to Diane Chepko-Sade of the biological sciences faculty and honors student Michael Mastromauro for their study of wolves in captivity.

Kauffman began working with Tomascak on a National Science Foundation-funded project this summer. She has been extracting grains of zircon from key samples of granite, a laborious process that begins with a geologist’s hammer, mortar and pestle. Zircon makes up only 10 to 100 parts per million of the granite, Tomascak said, but it can reveal a lot about how the granite formed.

Despite over a century of study of the northern Appalachians, he said, “There’s still so much unknown about an area that is supposedly so well studied. It’s very poorly understood to this day. It’s exciting because everything we learn is new.”

For Kauffman’s Challenge Grant project, an offshoot of the NSF project, Tomascak has arranged for her to analyze the zircon crystals at laboratories at Syracuse University and McGill University in Montreal. The analyses will allow “access to the history locked within zircons,” as Boswell Wing of McGill’s laboratory wrote in his letter welcoming the Oswego researchers.

“She’ll have really exciting data,” Tomascak said. “Nothing like it has been produced in the New England Appalachians ever.”

Keeler’s work on lightning in lake-effect snowstorms began last spring in a class with Steiger. The ability to forecast lightning is important because “any lightning is a potential killer,” Keeler said.

“Weathercasters are very interested to see what kind of relationship we can find between snowfall and lightning,” Steiger said. “We still don’t know exactly what causes lightning in storms. This might offer insight into what makes lightning.”

Keeler started as a broadcasting meteorology major at Oswego but became captivated by the science of meteorology and now, he said, he plans to attend graduate school and pursue research “at the leading edge of the science.” He has previous experience working with a faculty mentor this summer at SUNY Stony Brook’s Marine Science Research Center.

Peterson said that he worked with Ouellette this summer as part of a National Science Foundation-funded project “involving analysis of microbes from our local waters” and became interested in how they interact in the natural environment.

His Challenge Grant project with Ouellette will involve studying certain bacteria, the chemicals they produce in certain circumstances and the effect those chemicals may have on other microorganisms.

Peterson said he plans to pursue a doctoral degree in biological sciences and embark on a career of research and teaching.

Oswego initiated Challenge Grants in 2004, awarding up to $2,500 each to as many as four projects a year involving undergraduate scholarly or creative activity in collaboration with faculty.

Oswego’s Challenge Grants are supported in part by a donation from Timothy Murphy, a 1974 Oswego graduate and the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the SUNY Research Foundation.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Appalachian analysis—Dr. Paul Tomascak of SUNY Oswego’s geology faculty and Claire Kauffman of Oswego, a junior geology major, discuss their work in one of three newly awarded Challenge Grants at the college. Kauffman is analyzing zircon crystals in rocks from the Appalachians for insight into the chronology and process of mountain building.

(Posted: Oct 04, 2006)