Montana State University

Research takes MSU students to glaciers, tribal land and beyond

April 8, 2010 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Kevin Volkening, left, explains the research that took him to an Alaskan glacier, during MSU's Student Research Celebration on Thursday. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Kevin Volkening camped two weeks on a glacier, his tent surrounded by walls of snow so it wouldn't be torn apart by the 40 mph winds that returned every evening.

He was part of a team that wanted to drill almost 1,000 feet into the Kahiltna Glacier in Alaska, said the Montana State University student in chemical and biochemical engineering. Part of a larger study into climate change and pollution in Alaska, Volkening's job was creating a digital elevation model so the researchers could make sure they were drilling in the best spot for an ice core.

"Obtaining long-term climate records for this region is paramount to understanding long-term trends in climate, not only locally, but globally," Volkening said in his abstract for MSU's Student Research Celebration, held Thursday. "Ice coring provides an accurate, long-term, and detailed history of climate in the area from which it is taken."

While presenting his research at the celebration, Volkening described his adventures in Alaska, saying that he and researchers from other institutions gathered in Anchorage last May. Then they headed for the town of Talkeetna, climbed into a single engine plane and flew to Denali National Park. They landed in the snow, snapped on their skis and shuttled about 1,000 pounds of gear to their study area before beginning long days of field work in perpetual sunlight.

"It was a great experience," Volkening said.

Other students who presented projects at the celebration seemed to feel the same way about their experiences.

"I love research," said Kelsy Payne of Amsterdam, Mont., a senior in range science.

She spent all of last summer outdoors on tribal land near Polson, studying the effects of sheep on the noxious weed Sulfur cinquefoil and vice versa. She then continued her research in the lab. One thing she learned was that Sulfur cinquefoil didn't give the sheep enough protein, so they'd have to be fed protein supplements, Payne said.

Justin Moore, a New Jersey native majoring in physics and computer engineering, said he enjoys finding solutions to problems and eventually wants to conduct cancer research with medical physics. His project at MSU -- designing a temperature control module for an aurora borealis detector -- helped build a foundation toward that goal.

The original case that held the detector sat on top of Cobleigh Hall and got "really hot," Moore said. If the instrument is deployed to Alaska, however, the camera system wouldn't have been able to take the extreme cold. His goal was to design a system that would be housed in an insulated case and keep the detector from overheating or freezing.

Undergraduate and graduate students from all over campus presented their research projects at the annual celebration. With approximately 175 projects in all, they included the remote detection of meth labs, the effect of energy supplements on indoor rock climbing, coping strategies for college football players, gravitational waves, Russian movies, Yellowstone National Park microbes, and much more.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or