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Graduate Student Spotlight: Maegen Rochner

Maegen Rochner, a graduate student specializing in dendrochronology in the Department of Geography, is recreating a millennia of climate history one tree at a time. Armed with a chainsaw, a face shield, and hiking boots, she climbs the landslides and avalanches of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana and Wyoming searching for her next potential sample.

Tree-ring science, or dendrochronology, is a fundamental tool in understanding climatological and ecological histories of a location.

At the most basic level, tree rings show the amount of precipitation a region experiences in a year. When moisture is plentiful in the spring, a tree’s cells expand quickly, forming a light band. As the year progresses and the ground becomes more dry, the cells shrink, forming a thinner, darker band. One light and one dark band together constitute a year, with the variation in ring widths marking the different amount of moisture absorbed year to year.

Tree rings are also very dependent on temperature. The earlywood (light band) reflects the early growing season (spring and summer), and the latewood (dark band) reflects the later growing season (late summer and early fall) into dormancy (late fall, winter).

Rochner uses a chainsaw to collect a cross section from a remnant log on an avalanche chute outside Red Lodge, Montana.

Rochner uses a chainsaw to collect a cross section from a remnant log on an avalanche chute outside Red Lodge, Montana.

Wildfires, insect outbreaks, floods, droughts, and avalanches can alter the pattern, creating a unique “fingerprint” of that period that is present within all the trees of that location. Matching up the overlapping patterns from a sample with a known age to an older log of unknown age allows us to date that older sample. Continuing the process with older and older samples allows us to go back tens of thousands of years while giving us a more complete climatic picture of the area.

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Recognitions, October 3

Luther to Participate in Prestigious TV Academy Foundation Program

Catherine Luther, director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media in the College of Communication and Information, is among 25 professors nationwide chosen to participate in the Television Academy Foundation’s 2018 Faculty Seminar Program.

The faculty fellows will gain the latest information on the television and content development industries from top entertainment professionals during a weeklong seminar in Southern California in November.

“It is such a privilege to have been selected for this wonderful program,” Luther said. “I hope to gain insight into the current undertakings in the entertainment industries and bring that knowledge back to my unit.”

The seminar will include panel discussions with broadcast and cable network programming and scheduling executives, legal experts, and cutting-edge content creators. Private studio tours and trips to top Hollywood production facilities to meet with producers, observe production, and get firsthand updates on television technologies are also part of the program.

Mary Long to Lead UT Global Supply Chain Institute’s Supply Chain Forum

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business has appointed Mary Long the new managing director of the Global Supply Chain Institute’s Supply Chain Forum. Long’s 26-year industry career includes leadership roles in supply chain for companies including Campbell’s Soup, General Mills, Quaker Oats/Gatorade, Pillsbury, and Domino’s Pizza. She most recently served as managing director of the Supply Chain Management Institute at the University of San Diego’s School of Business.

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NSF’s New One-Proposal Cap Sparks Controversy

70 scientists have signed onto a letter asking the National Science Foundation to reconsider a new policy announced last month, which states that researchers can only submit one proposal a year as a principal investigator (PI) or co-PI.

The one-proposal cap only applies to the biology directorate’s three core tracks, excluding several other NSF programs from which many biologists receive support. The change in the grant proposal policies also helps to keep staff and reviewers from being overwhelmed by the ever rising number of submissions.

“The new limit is intended to reduce the number of rejected proposals resubmitted without major changes,” says Alan Tessier, the biology directorate’s deputy assistant director. “NSF would like scientists to collaborate at a deeper level than just “carving up the science” and listing each other on the grant proposal’s cover sheet,” says Tessier.

Biologists complain that this new policy was adopted without community input, and that this decision will ultimately slow the progress of biological research.

“It’s a terrible idea,” says Heather Eisthen, an integrative biologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “If you’re an early career scientist, desperate for funding, you’re not going to submit risky, collaborative projects that might be rejected. You’re going to focus on your own career and submit projects that are safe bets.”

Joanne Tornow, acting head of the biology directorate, says NSF is “sympathetic to the concerns the community is voicing,” and will continue to monitor and adjust the policy based on the volume and nature of the proposals coming in. “We’ve got the same goals and values,” Tornow says. “We want to offer as many opportunities for collaboration on important, cutting-edge work as we can.”

Learn more about the reactions to the policy changes here.

Zawodzinski to Lead Department of Energy Fuel Cell Project

The US Department of Energy has chosen a project led by UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Electrical Energy Conversion and Storage Thomas Zawodzinski as one of 10 recipients of Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) grants.

The grants are part of the agency’s focus on research that can provide a minimum of 100 hours of power to the grid as part of its Duration Addition to electricitY Storage (DAYS) program.

For his part, Zawodzinski’s team is taking a new approach to an old problem—efficiency—by changing a critical reaction.

“It has long been a goal to make a regenerative fuel cell, a single device that functions as both a fuel cell and an electrolyzer,” Zawodzinski said. “However, such devices have previously suffered from poor overall efficiency. The new project uses an alternative approach by changing one of the chemical reactions in the cell and bypassing the efficiency bottleneck.” Continue reading

Recognitions, September 19

McCullock Named Associate Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration

Kim McCullock has been named the associate vice chancellor for finance and administration.

McCullock has more than 20 years of experience in finance, auditing, and operations across several industries. Most recently, she served as director of finance and administrative affairs for the Tickle College of Engineering.

“I’m excited about this new opportunity and I look forward to expanding my contribution to the mission of the university,” said McCullock. Continue reading

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