UW College of Arts and Sciences funding many statewide projects including Northern Arapaho Language revitalization effort

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    Research projects on the uplift of the Bighorn Mountains, pigments in the Wyoming landscape, revitalizing the Northern Arapaho language and microbes of the La Prele mammoth site headline this year’s seed grant recipients from the University of Wyoming’s College of Arts and Sciences.


    The annual funding from the dean’s office is awarded to interdisciplinary research or creative activities that involve faculty from two or more A&S departments, schools or programs. A total of 12 proposals were awarded financial backing this year.

    Bighorn Mountains Uplift

    Led by Jay Chapman, assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, and Ellen Currano, associate professor in the Department of Botany, this research is geared toward understanding the exact timing of the rise of the Bighorn Mountains — and if that was responsible for changes in paleogeography and biodiversification. Wyoming experienced major climate changes around 55 million years ago that may serve as a template for understanding how climate change is affecting the state today.

    The team will conduct detailed analysis of sedimentary rocks that were deposited while the Bighorns were rising to determine the timing of the uplift; how quickly the mountains rose; what elevations the mountains reached; and how precipitation and temperature changed as a result.


    Chapman says many of the research locations are on private land, so the permission and assistance of landowners and ranchers are required.

    “All of the Wyoming residents we’ve worked with have been wonderful, and getting to know people around the state has made the research that much more rewarding,” he says.

    Pigments and Size in an Alpine Wyoming Landscape


    Exploring pigmentation of plankton through the lens of biology and art is on tap for Amy Krist, Rani Robison, Annika Walters and Katie Wagner. Associate Professor Krist and Walters, an assistant professor, are both in the Department of Zoology and Physiology, while Robison is an academic professional in the Department of Visual and Literary Arts, and Wagner is an assistant professor in the Department of Botany.

    The group plans to focus on the alpine lakes of the Snowy Range across seasons to untangle the relative effects of two drivers of pigmentation: ultraviolet radiation, which increases with elevation and decreases with ice cover, and winter conditions, which very recently were shown to increase pigmentation. The study assesses multiple forces affecting pigmentation; most previous studies monitored changes over a period of days in laboratory conditions.

    To explore the research through the lens of art, the researchers plan to use color pigments and color photography. They will document the color variation of plankton over seasons and gradients of ultraviolet radiation, and extract pigments to create color swatches that exhibit a time-based “color wheel.”


    “The photographic medium has a long history with the sciences, where it has been used to document and provide evidence,” Robison says. “These ideas bridge the gap between creative and objective documentation uses of cameras.”

    Revitalizing the Northern Arapaho Language

    Professor Caskey Russell, with the School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice (SCGSJ), plans to work with Department of Anthropology Associate Professor Marcus Watson, anthropology doctoral student Phineas Kelly and SCGSJ Assistant Lecturer Robyn Lopez to use virtual reality to record places of important traditional custom and practice for Northern Arapaho people.

    The group will record those sites in three-dimensional virtual reality and then create language revitalization applications for schools on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Students will be able to “enter” the landscape in virtual reality and interact with the landscape, and the stories about the landscapes, in the Northern Arapaho language.

    Russell has been helping both tribes of the Wind River reservation with language revitalization, one of their major concerns, since his arrival on campus in 2004. He hopes to attempt a similar project with the Eastern Shoshone language in the future.

    “While our research will gather information on stories of places across Wyoming that were utilized by the Northern Arapaho before they were forced onto the reservation, our research is more about recognizing the continued indigenous presence in Wyoming and co-creating, with the tribe, new language revitalization strategies,” Russell says.

    Microbiome of the La Prele Mammoth Site

    Department of Botany Associate Professor Naomi Ward and anthropology Professor Todd Surovell will use the A&S seed grant to complement ongoing work regarding analysis of ancient microbial communities at the La Prele mammoth site in Converse County.

    Analysis of microbiomes associated with ancient samples is a new and powerful tool for identifying and tracking agents of infectious disease, and analyzing changes in human diet and lifestyle. It also has considerable potential as an approach for paleoclimatic reconstruction and dating.

    Ward and Surovell are attempting to determine whether a new scientific method is a viable technique for identifying authentic ancient microbes in stratified soils. Samples collected from the La Prele site are ideal because of well-characterized stratigraphy.

    Previous excavations at the site have revealed the presence of a mammoth kill and an associated human campsite dating to around 12,900 years ago, which makes it one of the oldest archaeological sites in Wyoming.


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