Highlights from UAF BLaST's Dynamic Summer Activities

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Contact Info: aktopkok@alaska.edu

By Amy Topkok

Iḷisaġvik Tribal College Environmental Health Camp 2018 Summer Camp in Utqiaġvik, Alaska

Nine undergraduates from many different regions of Alaska attended the Iḷisaġvik College Environmental Health Camp, from July 9 to 13, 2018. BLaST Research Advising and Mentoring Professionals Emily Sousa and Theresa Vertigan and Iḷisaġvik faculty Linda Nicholas-Figueroa, Ph.D., taught the sponsored course, Biology 195. The course was designed to study scientific and environmental cultural issues related to the health of the Arctic environment and what impacts these have on human health. A combination of lectures, field trips, and hands-on labs allowed students to look closely at soil microbiology, air and water quality, plant science/ethnobotany, and climate change. Scientists, researchers, and local Elders led activities and related discussions.


Nicholas-Figueroa, an associate professor in biology and chemistry, has previously received a Faculty Pilot Project award through BLaST, and she collaborated in the BLaST-sponsored Methods of Molecular Biology Summer Science camp in 2017. Iḷisaġvik Tribal College has also received multiple equipment awards and a renovation award to enhance the outdated science laboratory, which, in turn, have increased the number of student involvement in research activities


Iḷisaġvik undergraduates learn about many environmental-related issues, including processes of conducting research in the Arctic. Utqiaġvik, Alaska, July 9-13, 2018.

Summer Research Student Devon Kignak-Brower, Iḷisaġvik College Undergraduate, Studies Diet and Mercury Exposure as Part of BLaST Research at University of Alaska Fairbanks

Devon Kignak-Brower, an undergraduate student at Iḷisaġvik College, participated in a BLaST Faculty Pilot Project (FPP) studying diet and mercury exposure at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus from May 27 to June 2, 2018. Kignak-Brower began his research in February with mentorship from the UAF Wildlife Toxicology Laboratory and Linda Nicholas-Figueroa, Ph.D., at Iḷisaġvik Tribal College, where he helped organize and conduct hair collection and diet surveys in Utqiaġvik. At UAF this summer, he enjoyed learning to use the DMA80 that measures mercury content and stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in human hair, and learned the procedures of processing hair samples and examining the results. The Wildlife Toxicology Laboratory is directed by FPP awardee Todd O’Hara, D.V.M., Ph.D., A.B.V.T., in collaboration with research professional Maggie Castellini.

Linda Nicholas-Figueroa, Ph.D., (l), Research Professional Maggie Castellini (m), and Iḷisaġvik College undergraduate student Devon Kignak-Brower (r) study mercury levels in hair samples related to diet at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Iḷisaġvik College undergraduate student Devon Kignak-Brower demonstrates how to freeze dry hair samples under vacuum at UAF, May 2018.


Collaboration with Earlham College and University of Alaska Fairbanks BLaST Program Highlights Summer Research in Alaska Ethnobotany in Three Regions of Alaska

From July 12 to 29, 2018, the Earlham College EPIC Advantage Alaska Ethnobotany cohort visited rural Alaskan communities such as Bethel, Ketchikan, Denali Park, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus and surrounding Fairbanks areas with former BLaST Graduate Research Mentoring Assistant (GMRA) Courtney Scerbak. The six undergraduate students learned about Alaskan plants and research projects that included cultural uses of plants, food as medicines, ecological knowledge of local areas, changing climate, and humans’ interactions with animals and plants. Scerbak led the group to study One Health research projects and Alaskan ethnobotany.

EPIC Earlham College students visiting University of Alaska Fairbanks. The students also visited three other Alaskan regions in July 2018, in collaboration with the BLaST program. Courtney Scerbak (far right), a former BLaST Graduate Mentoring Research Assistant, brought six students to study One Health research projects related to Alaskan ethnobotany and the processes of research.


Some of the research locations the group visited included in Fairbanks: the University of Alaska Museum, Herbarium Tour, Creamer’s Field, Large Animal Research Station, sled dog kennels, Calypso Farm, Denali National Park; and in Ketchikan: Deer Mountain Hatchery, Tongass Historical Museum, Totem Heritage Center; and in Bethel: Kuskokwim Campus (College of Rural and Community Development rural campus). The cohort’s summer research program concluded with a presentation and art show in BLaST’s Student Engagement Center at UAF. Read more about EPIC at http://earlham.edu/the-epic-advantage/ .