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Professor's 'Dream' Research Program a Reality for Students

June 19, 2009

Professor's 'Dream' Research Program a Reality for Students

Tourists from all over the world flock to Yosemite National Park to take in its majestic beauty. For UC Merced Assistant Professor
Benoit Dayrat, the time he’ll spend in the park this summer is a mix of business and pleasure.

Dayrat is director of UC Merced’s Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) program, called
Yosemite Research Training in Environmental Sciences.Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program kicked off its second year this week.

The program brings students to Yosemite and the surrounding Sierra Nevada to conduct field research. Each participating student is assigned to a specific research project and works closely with a mentor.

Eight undergraduate students from the San Joaquin Valley and beyond are participating in this year’s program. They will spend nine weeks living, learning and conducting research in one of nature’s most scenic and diverse environments.

The mentors students will collaborate with are UC Merced faculty and scientists with the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey. Students, who reside at the
Sierra Nevada Research Institute’s
Wawona Field Station, will be in the park through mid-August.

Dayrat, a professor in UC Merced’s
School of Natural Sciences, said when is developing the NSF-funded project, he wanted to come up with a dream program for students that would allow them to conduct research while spending time in one of the world’s most picturesque settings. In addition to getting paid a stipend to conduct field research, students get to participate in classes and go on field trips to build their background knowledge.

The seven research projects span across all of environmental sciences. In one, the student will track the path of smoke plumes from wildfires and controlled burns that originate within the park. Another will gather leaf samples from sequoia to determine the genetic structure of trees in the area.

Besides overseeing the program, Dayrat will be a mentor on one of the projects. He’ll work with a student to collect freshwater organisms from high-elevation creeks to track species diversity. The research, he said, could help document how climate change affects the environment and its organisms.

“It’s important to know whether the streams and creeks are healthy or not and one way to tell is to look at the biological communities,” Dayrat explained.

Dayrat, an avid hiker, said he will spend most of this time in the park but expects travel back and forth between Yosemite and the UC Merced campus.