You’re invited to REU poster session
10 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, at CUE Atrium
Nearly 50 undergraduates from WSU and universities across America have spent 10 weeks with leading WSU researchers this summer, investigating regional atmospheric chemistry, smart environments, plant synthesis, and much more. The WSU community is invited to a poster session where students will share their findings.
 
The students are participants in 4 NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates programs, two REU-like programs, and other research projects on campus.

The event is free and open to the public.

 
PULLMAN, Wash. — When a forest fire rages through a river canyon, where will it go and how fast? Where should the fire fighters go next to best protect people and property?
 
Those are the critical questions that fire fighters and managers face on hot, windy and dangerous days of late summer.
 
A group of undergraduate student researchers is helping to answer some of these critical questions, hoping to improve fire behavior models in complex terrains.
 
At the same time, they’re getting a first-hand look — with great views — of real research.
 
Undergrads in canyons
The students, part of WSU’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, recently traveled to Riggins, Idaho, where they climbed steep hillsides overlooking the Salmon River and installed groups of wind measurement instruments.
 
Researchers would like to have better information about how winds travel through canyons to improve their models. Fire weather forecasters currently rely on weather simulations that look at weather in chunks of four square kilometers.
 
In an area with tricky topography, however, such as a river canyon, these computerized weather simulations don’t capture the complexity of what’s happening on the ground. In such a complex terrain, the wind traveling through the canyons can channel up valleys or increase dramatically as it travels over mountains and ridges. Turbulent air currents can even create fire tornadoes.
 
Collecting wind data
Other 2011 REU programs
• “Characterization of Biological Systems” (chemistry REU), coordinated by James Brozik, associate professor
• “Smart Environments” (electrical engineering and computer science REU), coordinated by Teddy Yap, instructor and Diane Cook, professor
• “Regional Atmospheric Chemistry: State-of-the-Art Measurement and Modeling in the Pacific Northwest” (Laboratory for Atmospheric Research REU), coordinated by Brian Lamb, Regents Professor, and Shelley Pressley, assistant research professor
• “Characterization of Advanced Materials” (materials science engineering REU), coordinated by Dave Bahr director of WSU Undergraduate Research and professor, and Dave Field, materials science professor
• “Smart Plans for the Future” (genomics and biotechnology), coordinated by Amit Dhingra, assistant professor
• “Macromolecular Synthesis in Plants” (interdisciplinary biochemistry summer program), coordinated by Tom Okita, scientist

Led by Brian Lamb, Regents Professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering, the researchers are collecting detailed wind data in three different types of terrain, including the steep river canyon in Riggins, a mature forested drainage near Priest Lake, and a desert site in Southern Idaho.

 
The researchers will use the data to evaluate and improve the computerized simulations for fire weather forecasting. The project is supported by the USDA Forest Service’s Joint Fire Science Program and includes collaborators from the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Forestry Sciences Lab in Missoula, Montana, and Moscow, Idaho.
 
Left behind
As part of the project, the instruments near Riggins are left for two months, measuring wind speed and direction. Students will return after a month to download data and to change the batteries and then return at the end of the season to retrieve the instruments.
 
Student perspectives
Paige Pruisner, an REU student from Boulder, Colorado, jumped at the chance to participate in the field work. As she climbed the sides of the canyon, though, she thought that “hiking” was not really the right word to describe the adventure. The project, she said, was challenging and physically demanding, but she felt like she enjoyed a rare opportunity.
 
“We saw the views that the deer, not people, get to see,’’ she said.
 
At the same time, she enjoyed learning about the fire management research, which is particularly important for people who live in the West.
 
“It was really fascinating – and physically demanding,” she says.
 
Participating in the REU program has given Pruisner a new understanding about research and field work. Research, she says, is solving problems, and it can be both frustrating and rewarding. The program helped her to grow personally by helping her to become a better problem solver.
 
“You’re asking, ‘why won’t these maps line up?’ and then you finally solve it, and that’s nice. You look back at the end of the day, and it’s fulfilling.”
Pruisner also enjoyed what she called, the “REU effect.” Spending the summer surrounded by academics and researchers instead of working at a coffee shop meant that she grew academically and gained understanding on topics ranging from the mapping tool, ArcGIS, to atmospheric modeling and boundary layer meteorology.
 
“Being in a community of intellectuals forces you to step up your game,’’ she says.
 
Poster session Aug. 5
A symposium and poster session of this year’s REU projects will be held this 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5 at the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education atrium.