Judging an Undergraduate Research Conference – UMCUR April 2014

Last week, I had the opportunity to judge the University of Montana’s Undergraduate Research Conference (UMCUR).

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I was assigned to judge a section of social science oral presentations. The topics in my session were about LGBTQ self-esteem, drunk driving in Montana and current research on depression.

Each student was presenting on their research they had been working on through their undergraduate career. In most cases, this presentation was based on their senior project/capstone project through the honors college. Some students had their own original research and some were working with data from the labs of other social scientists or their research mentor.

Through the training, I learned that I was to judge the presentations based on the how clear the information was presented and the merit of the research. As part of the conference, 5 oral presentation students would win an outstanding achievement award.


They were experimenting with online (GoogleDocs) judging forms, so I scanned the QR code and filled out the forms on my iPad.

Overall, I was very impressed! I have only presented orally at a research conference as a graduate student, and I found it difficult to prepare for because I had only presented posters up to that point!

I am glad I had the chance to do this through the University – UM gives graduate students a lot of opportunities to be involved.

Spring Break Part 2: Canyonlands National Park

As mentioned in Spring Break Part 1, my friends and I headed down to Moab, Utah for a “road less traveled” spring break experience! The first couple of days, we wandered around BLM lands and Arches National Park, but the last day we drove to Canyonlands National Park.

View of the park geography through Mesa Arch

View of the park geography through Mesa Arch

Since this park is so big, and we only had one day, we chose to tackle the “Island in the Sky” portion. As you can see from the map below, that is only about 1/3 of the park area, and we still didn’t even see the whole thing!

Map of Canyonlands – we went to the top portion, “Island in the Sky”

“Island in the Sky” is made up mostly of rock formations, a few arches and gaping canyons below: the short hikes are mostly looking down on the canyon.


Sitting on the edge of the world! My parent’s didn’t like this one – Don’t try this at home! (but try it at Canyonlands instead!)

According to the National Park Service, the geography of Canyonlands was formed millions of years ago through rock deposits, uplift and erosion:

Canyonlands is part of a region called the “Colorado Plateau,” an area that stands high above the surrounding country. About 20 million years ago, movement in the Earth’s crust began to alter the landscape of North America, building modern landforms like the Rocky Mountains, Nevada’s Basin and Range, and the Colorado Plateau. Some geologists believe that the plateau has risen as much as 10,000 feet since the uplift began.

These movements also created cracks where melted rock rose from deep inside the Earth. In some places, it cooled before reaching the surface, creating pockets of harder, igneous rock within the surrounding sedimentary layers. Eventually, erosion exposed these harder deposits, creating the isolated mountain ranges visible from Canyonlands: the La Sals, Henrys and Abajos.

As I mentioned, we hiked around the top of the formations and looked down toward the White Rim Road (named aptly for its appearance of driving around the white-rimmed canyon). Below, you can see the white rim.


One other aspect to note about this park is the sheer size. Arches was awesome, but it didn’t have sprawling canyons and deep crevices. These pictures don’t even do the park justice, so I suggest you visit!

Me doing yoga.. on the edge of the world (again)

Me doing yoga.. on the edge of the world (again) – notice the white rim of the canyon below

All in all, if you get a chance to visit Moab – take it! The views are spectacular and you can’t get an idea of the massive landscape until you see it through your own eyes.



Before I sign off on this post, I wanted to stress “don’t do this at home” – and even if you do it an Canyonlands, be careful. There was nothing below me besides the rock I was standing on, and even that is risky!

Spring Break Part 1: Arches National Park

For spring break this year, some friends and I headed down to Moab, Utah and tent-camped on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands right outside of Arches National Park!

Pine Tree Arch

Pine Tree Arch

We spent the day hiking around the park – and I could not believe how big the arches were and how close we were allowed to get to some of them.

Navajo Arch

Navajo Arch (overlooking part of the park!)

According to the National Park Service, the arches form from because sandstone cracks and erodes (through wind and rain) over time. Here is a photo from the NPS that shows how the arches form!

Stages of arch formation: Rainwater dissolves sandstone, widening cracks to form fins. An alcove eroded in the base of a fin might grow to form an arch before finally collapsing.

Also according to NPS, there are over 2,000 documented arches in this park, and I saw a few while hiking. Our hikes consisted of Devils Garden (Double O, Navajo, Partition, Landscape, Pine Tree and Tunnel Arch), Skyline (Skyline, Broken and Sand Dune Arch), Wolfe Ranch (Delicate Arch) and the Balanced Rock Viewpoint.

Broken Arch

Me under Broken Arch

My favorite by far was Delicate Arch. After a one mile hike straight up a rock face (okay, maybe it wasn’t straight up), we made our way along the edge of a cliff to a wide open bowl-shaped drop off. On the edge was Delicate Arch, pictured below.

Delicate Arch from afar

Delicate Arch from afar (drop-off into bowl-like area down to the right of the photo)

As I mentioned before, I can’t believe I was able to walk inside the arch! You can see me with my arms up below!

Me standing under Delicate Arch (and avoiding the steep drop off!)

Me standing under Delicate Arch (and avoiding the steep drop off!)

Arches NP is also home to the Fiery Furnace – a “garden” of red rocks, pictured below.

Fiery Furnace

Fiery Furnace

Next outdoor exploration is Canyonlands in Thursday’s post – stay tuned!

Earth Hour 2014

On Saturday, March 29th, celebrate Earth Hour by turning off your lights at 8:30pm local time!

This celebration started in Australia in 2007, and has grown to a world-wide grassroots movement to help educate people on building sustainable communities. They hope that turning off your lights for one hour will lead to a more sustainable world! Turning off lights for 1 hour saves electricity, but if it helps people realize that lights don’t need to be on all the time, this saves even more energy.

Last year, people were encouraged to add their voice to a wall of stories. This year is no different. Participants are encouraged to create their own event and support sustainability efforts around the world.

This year, monuments around the country are turning off non-essential lights in celebration. Current buildings/monuments include the Space Needle (Seattle), the Gateway Arch (St. Louis) and the Empire State Building (NYC).

List of monuments participating - tweet the ones not listed to get them involved!

List of monuments participating – tweet the ones not listed to get them involved!

For more information, check out this video. And this weekend, make sure to light your candles instead!

Method trumps ocean plastics – why isn’t anybody else following suit?

A year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about the amazing idea that Method Soap had to help lower ocean plastics. The company salvaged ocean plastics from the shores of Hawaii and made bottles out of it. Inside the bottles is biodegradable hand and dish soap.

Method said that the process was not cost-effective, but they hope to raise awareness of increasing rates of ocean debris, according to the New York Times.

When the soap came out, you could only buy it at Whole Foods, but now you can buy it online (for a low price of $5.08). It comes in two “flavors” – “sea minerals” and “sweet water.”

The blog post about Method from 2012 is one of the most visited on my site – and for good reason. Method was able to combine social good and environmental education into an affordable and useful house-hold product.

Method ocean debris soap

So – why aren’t more companies doing this?

We know that plastic is forever  - well, pretty close to forever. The Pocket Guide to Marine Debris from the Ocean Conservancy (created as a guide to help citizens collect marine debris on their own shores) has a table of decomposition rates. Glass bottles take the cake at 1 million years until decomposition, but plastic bottles clock in at 450 years. Other large contributors include fishing line (600 years), disposable diapers (450 years), aluminum cans (80-200 years), and foamed plastic buoys (80 years).

These contributors enter the water through recreation, dumping and waterway activities (in rivers and oceans). Just a short 3 hour trip to the beach could send a plastic bottle into the ocean for 450 years.

Method is helping with marine debris clean-up and so is the Ocean Conservancy. They research and provide environmental education and educational materials. They also head coastal clean-up projects in different waterways around the United States.

Example of a clean-up bag

Until everyone gets really good at bringing their trash with them, or until everyone cleans up the beaches, support the effort with Method soap. The Garbage Patch may be getting bigger, but we can help with just 5 buck for soap that we can use every day. Until more companies follow suit, support Method!

World Water Day 2014: March 22

Happy World Water Day! This holiday, celebrated on March 22nd, was created in 1993 by the UN in hopes that the public become more interested in global water issues.

This year, the theme is “Water & Energy.” The UN’s explanation is as follows:

Energy generation and transmission requires utilization of water resources, particularly for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy sources. Conversely, about 8% of the global energy generation is used for pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers.

Most of the objectives of this year’s celebration include the nexus of water and energy, including policy decisions and case study demonstrations in order to educate the public of the problems that people are facing world-wide with water, and especially with water and energy together.

This holiday is also a time to showcase the World Water Development Report on Water and Energy. This report, published in conjunction with Toyko’s World Water Day celebration, highlights research on hydroelectricity, hydro-power and water use, industrial water use, financing water, energy for water, waterborne transportation, Bio-gas produced from sewage, access to water and transportation, access to electricity and wind power.

For greater access to WWD resources, visit their official Flickr page, YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Water.org also has a celebration going on, and encourages World Water Day participants to use the hashtag “#waterday” on Instagram while sharing photos of YOUR water day (like water saving practices, making donations, etc.). Their outlook on the day is to provide clean water  and sanitation practices to developing nations to increase water supply in villages and decrease the prevalence of disease.

Since my account is attached to promotional Water.org tweets, you will see a few from them on the days leading up to Saturday’s holiday. Click here to attach your own account so that @Water can tweet for you (occasionally). Spreading the word can make all the difference!

Smog in Paris

You know I’m no stranger to blogging about smog. I have posted a couple (okay, maybe three different posts) about the smog in China.

But this time, it has hit my favorite European city: Paris.

The Eiffel Tower barely visible. I’m sure tourists aren’t happy with the view this week!

BBC reports that the air quality levels have been the highest in years, and the city of lights lost some of it’s brightness when the city was blanketed with smog. City officials have banned cars in some parts of the city and citizens have been encouraged to use public transportation. Having used the metro on several occasions myself, I can say that it’s convenient, fairly cheap and very clean/enjoyable.

This is not the first time that a European city has taken measures to combat air pollution. Milan bans cars “whenever pollution exceeds the statutory limit for 12 consecutive days.” This first happened in 2011. Madrid  has also called for citizens to use public transportation on days of high pollution, but it hasn’t worked as well.

The problem will continue to get worse. As transportation and industry increase, harmful gases will continue entering the atmosphere and creating smog in major cities.

However, change will come over time. Until then, walk or take public transportation when you can. Spring is around the corner, so enjoy the weather on your walk across campus!