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A world of research at Oregon State University
Updated: 6 hours 31 min ago

Fire and Ice

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 1:51pm

Story and photos by Kimberly Kenny

The ship glides through the frigid stillness of the Arctic Ocean. On this September night, the Chukchi Sea off the northwest Alaska coast is a quiet, snow-globe world. A maze of ice sculptures screeches along the hull. Radio chatter mixes with banter between scientists and the gurgle of brewing coffee.

Laurie Juranek worriedly taps her long fingers on her thermos. Sea ice threatens her carefully laid plan to sample water from pre-determined spots. The map in front of her shows large swaths of ice directly over the ocean patches where she’d like to deploy equipment.

Sometimes, when the ship encounters ice, she stands on the bridge in fascination, visibly calmed, occasionally taking photos.

But tonight is not the time to be meditative; tough decisions must be made. Where should Juranek direct the ship? Which science should be prioritized? The cost to operate this vessel is about $50,000 per day. Teams from Oregon State, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the University of Alaska Fairbanks all need time to collect data.

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Should the ship steam southwest and retrace a path that might yield promising results? Or should Juranek take a longer path and transit east around the ice field?

Juranek is a chemical oceanographer at Oregon State University and the chief scientist on a 28-day expedition aboard the research vessel Sikuliaq (“young sea ice” in the native Iñupiaq language). She is soft-spoken, humble, deliberate. She is also tough. Her early sea-going days were spent as the only female researcher on Ukrainian cargo carriers. Her faith in persistent work propelled her through a Ph.D. at the University of Washington and research trips in the South Pacific, the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic.

Laurie Juranek served as chief scientist on the Sikuliaq research cruise.

Getting access to the Arctic at this time of year proved to be a tricky and lengthy process for Juranek’s team. The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission had misgivings about allowing a research vessel in the area at a time when bowhead whales are known to be migrating. After much negotiation, the cruise was allowed to proceed, as long as it remained at least 30 miles offshore and a community observer was present onboard.

Hot Zone for Climate Change

If you want to see the effects of climate change right now, look no further than the Arctic. It is being transformed by the unprecedented retreat of the ice. What was normal for this region decades ago is no longer guaranteed or even predictable. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice is declining at an increasing rate in all months of the year. In September alone, when sea-ice coverage normally reaches its annual minimum, NASA satellites indicate a decline of about 13 percent per decade.

This trend matters for many reasons. Sea ice acts as a reflective blanket on top of the ocean. Without it, water absorbs more sunlight and warms more quickly. Average air temperatures in the Arctic have increased twice as fast as the global average. Warmer seasons stretch longer; animal species adjust their behavior; indigenous communities that have thrived for thousands of years struggle to adapt; and scientists scramble to keep up.

These might seem like distant dramas, but what happens in the Arctic affects the rest of the world. This ocean is in constant motion. When ice forms here, cold, salty water sinks and circulates through the deep ocean around the planet with consequences for marine chemistry and biology that spread like the tentacles of some giant sea creature.

Launching equipment takes a coordinated effort.

And then there’s the annual feeding frenzy that occurs during the Arctic summer. Whales, seals and birds flock here to reap the bounty of plankton “blooms,” tiny sea plants that are so important to the food chain that scientists call it primary productivity. News that primary productivity in the Arctic has increased almost 50 percent since 1997 made headlines last fall. Individual blooms are getting larger and occurring earlier in the year.

But what hasn’t been well studied is whether or not this trend is continuing later in the season, after summer passes and sunlight starts to wane. That’s the issue that concerns Juranek and her team on the Sikuliaq. With funding from the National Science Foundation, they are investigating primary productivity during the barely studied late season from August to November.

“What we’re trying to figure out is how biology is impacted by the lack of sea ice,” Juranek says, “In general, there’s less ice coverage later in the season than there has been historically. And that is likely to impact how things grow and live and die.”

Course of the R/V Sikuliaq in September 2016 (Map: Heather Miller)

Course Change

“Back to the Wainwright line,” Juranek says in characteristic brevity to Captain Adam Seamans, who receives the decision with an empathetic shrug, their normal mode of communication. The Wainwright line stretches toward the north away from the coast. It is part of a larger network of study sites created by the Arctic research community.

For the next several weeks, the Sikuliaq crisscrosses the Chukchi sea, stopping to collect water samples at stations along the line. At each one, scientists deploy an instrument known as a CTD. Consisting of sensors and two-dozen cylinders that can open and close to grab water, the CTD provides clues about marine organisms and ocean conditions — conductivity, temperature, depth — at selected locations from the surface of the sea to the bottom.

Sediment cores contain evidence of changing ocean biology and chemical processes. Miguel Goni, OSU oceanographer, coordinated drilling activities on the Sikuliaq.

When the CTD is hoisted out of the water, OSU professor Miguel Goñi rousts troops of undergraduates and research technicians who run lab equipment and record data. Eager scientists peek through the circular window of a water-tight door in the lab. After the all-clear is given, the door opens and they clamber en masse toward the CTD. They squat next to nozzles and fill bottles, cold water running over their hands. A few minutes later, in the Sikuliaq’s two labs, water whirls through tubes, down funnels and over filters.

Farther aft, after the CTD is out of the water, a winch lifts another piece of equipment called a multi-corer from the deck. The crew watches closely as the multi-corer sways off the ship and into the water. As it sinks to the ocean floor, scientists in the computer room watch a live video feed of its progress. When the multi-corer makes its landing on the seafloor, brittle stars, worms and other creatures embedded in mud come into view. The multi-corer projects a tube into the mud and collects a sample to bring back to the surface. On deck, this column of sediment will later be sliced into sections, each representing a layer of ocean history.

Dale Hubbard and Burke Hales, Oregon State oceanographers, deployed the “SuperSucker” to gather data on water chemistry ad biology.

With the CTD and multi-corer safely stowed on deck, OSU oceanographer Burke Hales goes to work with another sampling device that he developed. It goes by the scientific name of “SuperSucker.” As the crew tows the sensor-laden instrument behind the ship, it pumps water into the lab for rapid analysis. Data arrive as colored lines on Hales’ computer screen, indicating levels of oxygen, carbon and other elements dissolved in the sea.

From day to day, the science team and crew alternate between collecting water with the CTD and bringing up mud with the multi-corer. These activities become routine. Day and night, the work proceeds in shifts in a schedule governed by the need to accomplish the task at hand. The ship becomes its own ecosystem of personalities working toward the goal of discovery.

Ah Ha! Moment

Near the end of the cruise, the decision to change course pays off. Goñi bounds into the computer room, balancing a laptop on his forearm and pointing at the screen. “It looks like a phytoplankton bloom! We’ve got a phytoplankton bloom,” he tells Juranek.

Results from the CTD and the SuperSucker show there might be higher primary productivity on the Wainwright line than expected. Juranek is cautious to jump to conclusions, but she admits that her own measurements of oxygen levels are also higher than expected, a telling indicator of increasing primary productivity.

“There’s a lot of focus on the early season,” says Juranek. “There’s a huge bloom when the ice retreats. It turns a big, green, goopy color, just loaded with phytoplankton. We’re finding higher levels of primary productivity than we thought would be here at this time of year, than people think there is. But somehow — and the how is really what we’re after — phytoplankton are able to grow and be happy at this time of year too.”

Back to School

The expedition has gone well and is ahead of schedule. The Sikuliaq makes a brief stop at Point Hope, Alaska. The local school welcomes Juranek and other researchers who share a bit of their science and what they hope to accomplish on their journey. They would clearly like to inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps.

Aurora borealis from the deck of the R/V Sikuliaq

After the ship docks at Nome, the OSU scientists return to their labs in Corvallis. They are still analyzing their data, but a preliminary look suggests that the trend of increasing primary production is indeed continuing late in the season. By tracking dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases in the water throughout the cruise, Juranek was able to see hot spots of biological activity. To her, the evidence is compelling but by no means the end of the story.

“I’m interested in what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis,” says Juranek, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “But I see it as a small piece of a bigger whole. As a community, scientists are trying to figure out the way our Earth works. And we’re making this incremental progress. Nobody gets the answers in one go.

“Even throughout a whole career, you might just get a few little pieces of information that then get passed down to the next generation for people to build on. I feel like I’m contributing to the understanding of the way our planet works, and hopefully that will bring knowledge and some insight into courses of action.”

As the altered Arctic continues to unfold, scientists are focusing on more than the extent of seasonal ice or a change in productivity. What’s at stake is a fundamental shift in a massive ecosystem. Primary productivity adds fuel to the fire of life, from whales to polar bears, in a place that is still draped in darkness half the year. By studying a region so clearly positioned at the forefront of climate change, scientists are gaining valuable clues about the likely future of the planet.

jQuery(document).ready(function($){ var stackedResizer = function(){ $('.aesop-stacked-img').css({'height':($(window).height())+'px'}); } stackedResizer(); $(window).resize(function(){ stackedResizer(); }); }); Sunrise from the aft deck (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) Dale Hubbard and Burke Hales, Oregon State oceanographers, deployed the "SuperSucker" to gather data on water chemistry ad biology. (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) Writer/photographer Kim Kenny (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) Walrus were a frequent sight in the Chukchi Sea. (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) Polar bears depend on ice floes to rest and hunt. (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) Launching equipment takes a coordinated effort. (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) Miguel Goni, OSU oceanographer, with a sediment core. (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) The lounge on the R/V Sikuliaq (Photo: Kimberly Kenny) Aurora borealis (Photo: Kimberly Kenny)

Editor’s note: Kimberly Kenny received honors baccalaureate degrees in biology and international studies from Oregon State in 2015 and a master’s in journalism from Stanford University in 2016. Her participation in the Sikuliaq cruise in September 2016 was supported by the National Science Foundation.

The post Fire and Ice appeared first on Terra Magazine.

Categories: OSU Extension Blogs

<p>The numbers of women mathematicians

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 12:43pm

From left: Elise Lockwood, Christine Escher, Holly Swisher, Elaine Cozzi, Mary Beisiegel, Vrushali Bukil, Malgo Peszynska, Mary Flahive. (Photo: Hannah O’Leary)

By Srila Nayak

Mathematics associate professor Holly Swisher is eloquent about what it means to be a woman mathematician at a time when the number of female research mathematicians continues to remain low.

“I think the biggest obstacle for an individual in an underrepresented group is just being able to see yourself doing a certain job that people have never imagined someone like you doing. I can think of at least three instances when a female student has come up to me and said, ‘Meeting you makes me visualize myself in this job.’”

Swisher is one among nine women tenure track faculty in Oregon State University’s Department of Mathematics, an impressive number considering the national trend. When you do the math, that’s 30 percent women in the department, which is home to 30 tenured and tenure-track faculty.

According to a 2010 survey by the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, women comprise only 14 percent of the tenured and tenure-line faculty at doctoral-level mathematics departments. Despite gains in the numbers of women opting to study math and science*, a large disparity exists between men’s and women’s representation in tenured and tenure-track positions in the fields of mathematics, physics and engineering.

The statistics clearly indicate that the gender composition of OSU’s Mathematics Department marks a striking departure from the norm.

Currently, the department has three tenure-track women mathematicians: Elaine Cozzi, Mary Beisiegel and Elise Lockwood. It has two associate professors, Vrushali Bokil and Holly Swisher, and four professors, Mina Ossiander, Mary Flahive, Christine Escher and Malgo Peszynska.

Ossiander, who joined the department in 1988, was the first woman to become a full professor. The women mathematicians boast of highly impressive research and teaching accomplishments. They have received competitive research grants from prestigious institutions across the country and have been lauded for their extraordinary teaching and service contributions.

Cozzi was awarded a four-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for a project on mathematical fluid mechanics and the graduate student faculty award for her mentorship and teaching. Bokil has received multiple NSF awards as well as grants from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). She is currently collaborating with a mix of biologists and mathematicians on a project funded by NIMBioS, the NSF-funded National Institute of Mathematical and Biological Synthesis.

Escher has received grants from the NSF and the Association for Women in Mathematics for her work in algebraic topology and differential geometry. Mary Flahive has collaborated with Bella Bose in computer science on work funded by NSF. She has written three books, including a research monograph published by the American Mathematical Society, and has received the College of Science’s Olaf Boedtker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising.

A computational mathematician, Malgo Peszynska has received numerous NSF and Department of Energy grants (DOE, NETL) for her interdisciplinary research projects spanning applications in hydrology, oceanography, environmental engineering, physics and materials science.

Ossiander, whose research encompasses theoretical and applied probability, has been principal investigator and co-investigator on a number of grants from NSF and other governmental agencies. Recently she has contributed her expertise in statistical modeling to interdisciplinary projects in hydrology and geostatistics.

Holly Swisher is a member of one of the most ambitious mathematical collaborations in recent times. She was chosen to join a team of more than 70 mathematicians from 12 countries who worked over a period of five years to create a massive mathematical database called the “L-functions and Modular Forms Database” (LMFDB). The database catalogs objects of central importance in number theory and maps out the intricate connections between them.

A specialist in mathematics education for post-secondary teaching, Mary Beisiegel has been awarded an NSF “Improving Undergraduate STEM Education” grant, a collaborative effort among 11 institutions aimed at improving teaching in lower-division mathematics and science courses.

Elise Lockwood, an expert in mathematics education research, is a co-principal investigator on a grant awarded by the NSF Research on Education and Learning (REAL) program.

Lockwood investigates student learning in a variety of mathematical environments. “My zeal for math education research developed when I took a combinatorics class,” Lockwood observed. “I fell in love with counting problems and became obsessed with learning everything I could about why students struggle to solve such counting problems and how I could help them improve.”

Many say they learn something new every day as mathematicians.

“I loved math before I knew what a ‘career’ is,” said Peszynska, who grew up in Poland and once encountered a university professor who called her parents to suggest they steer their daughter to a career other than mathematics. Her sentiments toward the pursuit of mathematics are widely shared by her colleagues.

“What inspires me is my love for teaching mathematics and sharing the conceptual ideas and representations with students,” emphasized Beisiegel. Escher enjoys studying the “powerful tools” of algebraic topology and their uses in various other fields such as differential geometry and theoretical physics. “It is a beautiful connection between different areas of mathematics that leads to strong classification theorems.”

Dual career mathematician couples

In a study of dual-career academic couples by Stanford University’s Clayman Institute of Gender Research, a participant remarked, “Talented academics are often partnered, and if you want the most talented, you find innovative ways of going after them.” Not surprisingly, traditionally a lack of institutional support for dual-career hiring or meeting the needs of academic couples has held women back from pursuing competitive jobs in academic STEM fields.

A key reason behind the Mathematics Department’s success in hiring and retaining higher numbers of female mathematicians is its friendly and encouraging attitude toward accommodating academic couples. The department has successfully implemented a dual hiring initiative in several cases and currently has five mathematician couples in tenured or tenure-track positions — all of whom were partnered before they arrived at Oregon State.

There is ample evidence suggesting that lack of career support for partners leads to a high proportion of women accepting non-tenure-track and part-time positions at research universities, instead of tenured or tenure-track positions. The American Association of University Professors views partner hiring at academic institutions as “common and necessary.”

There is yet another unconventional feature that sets the Mathematics Department apart from most other academic departments. In most of its dual partner hires, the woman was the first hire. According to a survey of 9,000 full-time faculty at 13 leading U.S. research universities, men comprise the majority of first hires — 58%, in fact, reported Stanford University’s Clayman Institute. OSU’s Mathematics Department has reversed the gender ratio in this respect.

Bokil observed that four of the six women mathematicians were the first hire. OSU was able to successfully hire their partners for faculty positions as well. It was a win-win situation: the partner hires brought skills and qualifications that matched important research and teaching objectives in the department.

When Cozzi was interviewed, she informed the hiring committee that her mathematician spouse, Clay Pletsche, was in the job market as well. They were both interviewed and both offered tenure-track jobs.

“The department made a huge effort to consider both of us for jobs. They are very good at taking advantage of situations where there are two people who want to come and are quality candidates,” said Cozzi.

Mentorship has also played a significant role in enhancing the career success of women faculty.

“This department has been, in addition to creating space for spouses, really good in mentoring young faculty,” Bokil pointed out. She was mentored by men and women in the department and received valuable advice on writing grants, editing proposals and applying to workshops and conferences.

“In our department, people go out of their way to think of others, help others, promote others,” added Bokil. Several research studies have shown the significance of mentoring for women’s success in achieving tenure and promotion.

A number of OSU women mathematicians say they attended Ph.D. programs where there were no or very few female research professors. Flahive, who did her doctoral studies at Ohio State University in the 1970s, was just one of two women students in her year.

Swisher had very few women professors in graduate school. “At University of Wisconsin-Madison, while I was a graduate student, there were only two female faculty out of 50 professors. It was very different from here,” said Swisher.

Little wonder then that Oregon State’s Department of Mathematics feels like a breath of fresh air to its women professors.

The department’s younger women mathematicians were encouraged at what they saw during the interview process: the hiring committees were either chaired by women or comprised women members.

“I think, in some degree, I was drawn to a department where I saw other women. OSU Math has done a really good job ensuring they interview qualified women candidates and then give them a chance to showcase their work,” said Cozzi.

Flahive, who joined the department in 1990, has witnessed the gender diversification of the Mathematics Department over the years.

“It has something to do with the attitude of my colleagues. We don’t think of hiring women mathematicians as unusual.”

Overcoming biases and stereotypes

Society at large continues to stereotype mathematics as a male domain, and such beliefs can discourage women from entering or pursuing  mathematical careers. A 2010 CBMS survey reported that women earn 45% of the undergraduate degrees in mathematics, but women comprise only 11% of tenured faculty and 27% of tenure-eligible faculty in doctoral mathematics departments.

OSU’s Mathematics Department has done its fair share to overturn stereotypes about gender and mathematical ability and send a powerful message that women can do math and excel at very high levels of mathematical performance.

Women mathematicians at OSU have mentored and advised high numbers of women undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral researchers over the years. Bokil proudly mentioned that her first doctoral student was a woman who is pursuing a successful research career at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

They are also acutely aware of their influence as educators and mentors in a field that has fewer female role models.

Swisher is the organizer and faculty mentor of OSU’s highly successful Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in Mathematics, an NSF-funded research program in mathematics and theoretical computer science for undergraduate students that has been held nearly every summer since 1987.

Focused on cutting-edge research in pure and applied mathematics, the REU program supports 10 undergraduate students and runs for eight weeks in the summer. The program has a strong track record of enrolling at least 50 percent female students in each cohort from large and small, public and private universities who would not otherwise be exposed to the research process.

There were times as a student when Cozzi, who conducts research in mathematical analysis, admits she would find herself thinking, “I am the only woman in this room. Maybe there is something to this idea that I don’t belong.” Cozzi is pleased that some of the women she is teaching may see her and believe that a research career in mathematics is possible.

Over the years, Bokil has found herself thinking about cultural forces that stand in the way of women mathematicians. After attending numerous mathematics conferences throughout her career, she was struck by the privileges enjoyed by men.

“I notice that male mathematicians at conferences get more exposure, more access to research networks and collaborations. It can appear as an impenetrable men’s club.” This year, Bokil is part of a research group of three women that has received funding to do research at the Institute of Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) at Brown University and the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach (MFO) in Germany.

“I was determined to find more women mathematicians to work with. I think this is one way women mathematicians can be successful — by coming together to form research teams,” Bokil said.

A number of initiatives exist to redress gender imbalance in mathematics and combat entrenched sociocultural biases that hold back women mathematicians in the areas of research collaboration, promotions, research awards, inclusion in journal editorship, scientific associations and conference committees. Prominent among them is the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), which supports domestic and foreign research travels for women mathematicians and has recently received a $750,000 NSF ADVANCE grant to help establish research networks for women by fostering research collaborations at conferences and AWM Workshops.

*According to the National Science Foundation, women earned 6 percent of doctorates in mathematics in 1966. In 2006, nearly 30 percent of mathematics doctorates were earned by women.

 

Sources:

Schiebinger, Londa, et al. “Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know.” Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University, 2008.

Blair, Richelle, et al. Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences Survey Reports 2010. American Mathematical Society, 2013.

Jaschik, Scott. “Doing ‘Dual Career’ Right.” Inside Higher Ed, 2010.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, 2008, Science and engineering degrees: 1966–2006. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/degrees

Peszynska, Malgorzata. “Meet Malgorzata Peszynska.” Oregon Women in Higher Education, 2015. http://www.owhenet.jigsy.com/entries/bios/july-meet-malgorzata-peszynska

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Categories: OSU Extension Blogs