Utah State University's Vice President for Research Office hosted its fifth-annual Research Week March 30-April 2. Research Week features four days of events-- each day highlighting one aspect of university research. The Utah Agricultural Experiment Station is the historic foundation of research at USU and several researchers with UAES ties were among those honored this year.
Natural Resources professor, Fred Provenza, the 2008 D. Wynne Thorne Research Award winner, gave the annual D. Wynne Thorne lecture, the highest recognition given for research at the university. Provenza's lecture, "More than a Matter of Taste," discussed his research and experiences at Utah State.
For the past 30 years, Provenza's team has produced ground-breaking research that laid the foundations for what is now known as behavior-based management of livestock, wildlife and landscapes. This research has led to the creation in 2001 of a consortium that includes scientists and land managers from five continents. This consortium, known as BEHAVE (Behavioral Education for Human, Animal, Vegetation and Ecosystem), is committed to integrating behavioral principles and processes with local knowledge to enhance ecological, economic and social values of rural and urban communities and landscapes.
Provenza's work has become a keystone in the field of rangeland ecology. In 1999, he received the W.R. Chapline Research Award from the Society for Range Management for outstanding research accomplishments. This is the most prestigious research award given by the society.
College Researchers of the Year
Among the University's Researchers of the Year, selected by each college, are two affiliated with the UAES-- Paul Johnson, Agriculture and Timothy Gilbert, Science.
Paul Johnson's main research focus is drought management in Utah. His work addresses the key areas that can improve drought prediction and management in the West. Johnson analyzed climate data to determine the long-term frequency of drought. Johnson and his team developed a process for mapping and monitoring soils and waters susceptible to salinization, and provided information needed for salt-tolerance of some crop plants. They developed and improved sustainable landscape design and irrigation practices to minimize water use and impacts on water quality that are acceptable to diverse urban water-users. Johnson also studies water use habits among urban water users to further improve water conservation programs. Additionally, Johnson also provided alternative turfgrasses and management practices to reduce irrigation needs by 50% in the cool-arid West.
Tim Gilbertson's research focuses on the role of K+ channels in nutrient detection in chemosensory cells. According to Gilbertson, "There is a clear and distinct link between the intake of specific nutrients (e.g. fat and carbohydrate) and the development of dietary-induced obesity. Our previous work implicating K+ channels in the control of food (particularly fat) intake is consistent with this link between nutrient recognition mechanisms and control of food intake."
Gilbertson continues, "Eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa that are a particular concern in the state of Utah, have also been suggested to contain a component that is attributable to alterations in the sensory response to food. Thus, a clear understanding of the cellular mechanisms that contribute to the body's recognition of these compounds could, in principle, help combat some of the problems that arise due to excessive or inadequate intake of specific nutrients."
"Our identification of numerous types of potassium channels in the nutrient-specific cells has set the stage for our studies that will attempt to explore the functional role of these channels in the body's ability to recognize basic nutrients such as salts, proteins, carbohydrates and fat. Elucidating the mechanisms underlying nutrient transduction will yield important information that can be used to understand the control of food intake and dietary preferences. Moreover, it will be useful for both the food and pharmaceutical industries in the pharmacological control of food intake," concludes Gilbertson.
On Undergraduate Research Day students displayed their research in a day-long poster session, the annual undergraduate Student Showcase, and USU's top undergraduate researchers were honored.
Katie Brown, Undergraduate Researcher of the Year and dietetics major in the College of Agriculture, has been heavily involved in undergraduate research, focusing mainly on freshman health. She began working with UAES researcher Heidi Wengreen during her first semester at USU, assisting with the Freshman Health Study. During her sophomore year, Brown spearheaded the design, implementation, and teaching of a basic nutrition workshop, Healthy Food Choices 101, to incoming freshman as part of the orientation course, Connections.
Undergraduate Research Mentors
Among the Undergraduate Mentors of the Year honored was UAES researcher Gene Schupp, who has been intimately involved in promoting undergraduate research for most of his more than 16 years at USU. He was the lead author of a successful proposal to the College of Natural Resources (CNR) Dean's Council to use Quinney Foundation funds to create a CNR Undergraduate Research and Travel Grants Program to facilitate independent undergraduate research and to promote undergraduate participation in professional meetings. The CNR program, instituted before a similar program was introduced at the university level, has helped students present the results of their independent research at regional and national meetings for more than a decade. Gene has been the director of the grants program since its inception and in this role he has tirelessly advocated the value of student research as an educational tool, including giving annual presentations on undergraduate research in the College and in individual classes.
In addition, Gene has had more than 30 USU undergraduates gain research experience working on his and his graduate students' research projects. His philosophy has always been that these undergraduates are not merely technicians, but rather are junior colleagues, and that the experience is not simply employment, but an opportunity to learn about the process of research.
Lastly, Gene has mentored four independent undergraduate research projects from conception of the idea through development of a research design, collection and analysis of the data, interpretation of results, and writing of the final report. Three of these projects resulted in presentations at regional or national professional meetings, one has produced a peer-reviewed publication, and one is in the final stages of manuscript preparation for submission to an international journal.