News and Notes

A Newsletter for Faculty and Staff of Idaho State University

October 11, 2010 — Vol. 26 No. 34

ISU Researchers Receive Grant for Geoscience Outreach Education

Idaho State University researchers are attempting to connect prep students and teachers in Idaho, Nevada and Utah with the Alamo meteor that struck the ocean 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas 380 million years ago.

When the "Alamo Impact" occurred, Las Vegas was located south of the equator in the tropics near the western shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. What is now a landlocked desert in the Great Basin was a marine environment that has its history recorded in limestone rock, according to Idaho State University's geosciences professor Leif Tapanila.

Because this giant meteor's impact - it created a crater about 30 miles in diameter that was about a mile deep - occurred in a shallow-water, marine environment, it has created an excellent place to learn about how life adapted before and after the meteor"s impact.

"The Alamo Impact is one of the best examples showing how life responds to a meteor's impact," Tapanila said. "The rocks above the impact site show how animals came back after the impact, the rocks below show what life was like before the impact."

Tapanila is a co-principal investigator, along with Idaho Museum of Natural History education curator Rebecca Thorne-Ferrel, on a $220,000 National Science Foundation grant awarded to ISU. The project is titled "Evaluating the Effects of the Alamo Impact Event on Carbonate Platform Recovery and Regional Tectonics: A Research Focus for Educators in the Great Basin."

The aim of the grant is to employ undergraduate and graduate ISU university students to learn more about the impact site, and then transfer information to prep students and teachers, both locally in Nevada's Lincoln and Nye counties, and further away to students in Idaho, Utah and other areas of Nevada, including Las Vegas.

The grant will fund ISU students going out in the field to measure and study the geometry of the rocks and the layout of the meteor impact site.

Outreach efforts will include targeting high school-age girls to participate in the field research based on the Idaho Museum of Natural History's Forays into the Field program. Two field excursions to introduce high school students to authentic research are planned for two different years and will likely include local prep students and students from throughout Idaho.

"We'll bring a handful of students into the field to look at rocks and participate in a broad range of research activities," Tapanila said. "We hope to engage the female students and show them the value of working in science and with the scientific method in general. Female students are still underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math fields."

The researchers will also offer field trips for K-12 educators to get direct, hands-on field experience and knowledge of the site to bring that knowledge back to the classroom. Teachers from Clark and Nye counties in Nevada and as far away as Idaho and Utah will have authentic learning opportunities in the field.

ISU will work directly with the participating teachers and will work with them in their classrooms, including providing them presentations that could be streamed (via the Internet) through the Idaho Museum of Natural History. They'll also create a website that includes video from the field and information about the Alamo impact that can be used as a teaching resource.

"We are purchasing a 'Smart Podium' that helps with remote interaction and video streaming," Tapanila said. "This will bring us in direct contact with educators and their students in the classroom, getting them involved in science and bringing research directly to them. We're doing this by making use of the logistics that already exist at the Museum."

Tapanila touted the cooperative aspect of the grant.

"In the bigger scheme, this is an ideal model of how departments at ISU can work very well together," he said. "This project has clear research goals outlined by the ISU Department of Geosciences and we're working with the Museum on the education side to help us with our outreach efforts. It's a mix of strong research with a broad impact that includes K-12 educators and their students."