I am a third year PhD candidate in the Materials Science Program here at the University of Montana. The program is a collaborative degree between the University of Montana, Montana Tech, and Montana State University. My graduate research is focused the use of D-glucaric acid as a versatile building block for the formation of biodegradable, renewably-sourced materials. D-Glucaric acid is produced through the oxidation of D-glucose, which in North America is primarily sourced from corn. Companies such as Rivertop Renewables, a green chemical manufacturer based in Missoula, MT, have found economically viable oxidation methods for the production of glucaric acid and its salts. Current applications of glucaric acid salts are as corrosion inhibitors in the water treatment industry and as hard water sequestering agents in automatic dishwashing detergents. My research however is focused on the use of glucaric acid as a monomer for the synthesis of polyamides through a simple condensation reaction with a wide range of diamines.
Polyamides produced from glucaric acid are more commonly referred to as poly(glucaramides), and have a similar structure to commercially available Nylon polymers. These poly(glucaramides) have unique properties that are tunable through the selection of monomers used for polymerization. Specifically the water solubility of poly(glucaramides) can be controlled through the aliphatic chain length of the diamine. Polymers produced with shorter diamines, such as tetramethylenediamine, show more hydrophilic character and are water soluble. When more hydrophobic diamines, such as the 6 carbon hexamethylenediamine, are used in the polymerization the resulting polymers are insoluble in water. Through the careful selection and mixing of these diamines one can control the solubility of the resulting poly(glucaramides) and promote hydrogel formation.
Hydrogels are water-based, solid-like structures that can be over 99% water and still behave as a solid. Jell-O® and contact lenses are two commonly known examples of hydrogels, but hydrogels can be used in a multitude of other areas such as controlled release delivery systems, tissue engineering, and in disposable diapers. I am exploring the poly(glucaramide)-based hydrogels as materials for the controlled release of fertilizers. Currently, a large portion of the fertilizer that is applied to crops is not utilized and is released into environment through runoff. This leads to high concentration of nutrients in the surrounding water and results in the eutrophication of downstream water systems. A controlled release system could alleviate some of these risks associated with fertilizing crops. Additionally, if the delivery system is a biodegradable poly(glucaramide) hydrogel produced from corn, after the fertilizer has been delivered the material will be degraded with no further accumulation in the environment.
As a first year Masters student in the Geosciences Department, my area of focus is groundwater hydrology. An understanding of the properties that influence subsurface flow is integral in making management decisions regarding groundwater resources. The project that I am working on is a groundwater-stream water interaction study in Riverton, Wyoming. The study site lies adjacent to a former uranium processing plant that was active in the 1950s and 60s. Used mill tailings were discarded on 72 acres of the floodplain between the Wind and Little Wind Rivers and remained there for 25 years. Years of weathering and exposure allowed for the leeching of uranium and other heavy metals into the surficial aquifer below, and there is currently a 2-km plume of contaminated groundwater migrating towards and discharging into the Little Wind River.
The aim is to determine the future duration of contaminant loading and a timeframe for natural attenuation. To asses this, we try to make some inferences on groundwater age. Groundwater age can be defined as the time from when the water parcel entered the subsurface to the point of sampling. An understanding of the timescales of groundwater can be used to deduce recharge rates, flow rates, and timescales of contaminant transport rates. We sample the groundwater for the environmental tracers CFCs and SF6 and compare these values to known atmospheric concentrations throughout time giving us the apparent age of groundwater. This age distribution throughout the site provides insight to subsurface flow rates and paths. By quantifying the flux of groundwater through the system we can generate a prediction about the future duration of contaminate loading. We will use new age tracer data along with historical records to calibrate a contaminant transport model. An estimate of the timeframe for the duration of this contamination will be useful in making future site management decisions.
This is my first year working on a Ph.D. in Cultural Heritage and Applied Anthropology, so I am still working out the details for my dissertation. However, the premise of my research will explore the ways in which museum curation can shape our ideas and understandings of how we view particular communities, specifically American Indian and First Nations communities.
Historically, American Indians have been “been dug up, stored, handled, analyzed, displayed, and discarded with little or no consideration for their sanctity to those whose ancestors created them, valued them, or, in the case of human remains, were them” (King 2013:265). Current events – such as the strong Native American resistance movement surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota – demonstrate that indigenous perspectives and viewpoints can be used to make vital strides in bringing attention to First Nations concerns and struggles, and there are few outlets for these voices that are as powerful as the museum setting (Bench 2014; Haas 1996; Karp & Lavine 1991; Sleeper-Smith 2009). While the issues concerning First Nations representation in museums have been addressed many times by various scholars (Barker & Dumont 2006; Beck 2010; Bench 2014; Colwell-Chanthaphonh & Powell 2012; Daehnke & Lonetree 2011; Haas 1996; Karp & Lavine 1991; Luby & Nelson 2008; Martinez 2012; Martinez et. al. 2014; McNiven & Russell 2005; Sleeper-Smith 2009; Trofanenko & Segall 2012), museum interpretation of thorough and culturally-sensitive Native American perspectives continues to challenge curators, academics, and indigenous communities alike. Ultimately, museum representation of indigenous peoples is a “battle over the control of Native American objects,” and it forces us to ask “the question of ‘who gets to control ancient American history – government agencies, the academic community, or modern Indian peoples’” (Colwell-Chanthaphonh & Powell 2012:211).
My research will seek to explain the ways in which we can re-imagine museum exhibition space and the interpretation of indigenous perspectives, and I will use a framework based on one that was created by archaeologist Sonya Atalay called “community-based participatory research [CBPR]” (Atalay 2012:ix). Basically, this method puts the power of representation into the hands of the community that is being studied, and seeks to empower community members to create and share knowledge that is relevant and of use to them (Atalay 2012:7). Although Atalay’s framework specifically addresses the use of CBPR methods for archaeological projects, her approach is also applicable to museum curation because of the emphasis it places on community participation and control over the public interpretation of a Native community’s own objects. I have always felt strongly that science in general – and museum anthropology in particular - should engage in the concept of beneficence, defined as when “scientists should not merely seek to ‘do no harm’ but should actively seek to do some good” (Nash et. al., 2011:138). Museums and their exhibitions, as repositories for items that are held in the public trust, should seek to be actively engaged in promoting responsible civic engagement with culture and cultural artifacts.
My project will also strive to help re-define what it means to be a cultural tourist in the twenty-first century, with the ultimate goal of providing insight into how we think about the role of museums in society and the presentation of material culture to the public. Cultural tourism is defined as the commoditization and consumption of culture, and often is centered around the idea that Western society is “the center of the discourse of civilization, colonialism, and ultimately modernity” whereas the consumable Other culture is made up of “those peoples who are forgotten and locked in the past, repressed and undeveloped” (McNiven & Russell 2005:4; Martinez 2012). By making it their business to put Other cultures on display, museums encourage and promote this form of cultural tourism, where “everywhere, everything, and everyone become part of the marketplace” (Martinez 2012:551). Native American culture in particular has been commoditized for a Western audience; for decades, indigenous peoples have “been on display, for sale and feverishly consumed” both in the museum setting and beyond, with the material culture of Native cultures having been transformed into “brands of the cultural marketplace” (Martinez 2012:551; emphasis in original). In today’s world, museums commoditize Native American culture by labeling them as an Other and by putting indigenous material culture on display, and therefore museums also promote certain images and concepts about indigenous peoples that become enmeshed into the public memory. One of the roles of this project, in presenting a new format for museum display and interpretation of Native American perspectives, will be to hopefully encourage a form of cultural tourism that acts a tool for revitalization and preservation of American Indian voices.