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Undergrad Studies Environment in SNRI Lab

November 3, 2009

Wearing a lab coat and a look of intense concentration, UC Merced’s Cyle Moon spent a recent morning with snow on his mind.

Moon, a sophomore majoring in environmental engineering, was busily working inside the Sierra Nevada Research Institute’s Environmental Analytical Laboratory (EAL). On that particular day, he spent the morning analyzing snow samples collected from Greenland, the world’s largest island. He used an ion chromatography system to run tests on melted snow samples. The machine can determine different types of ions, such as sodium and potassium, present in the water.

Measuring those ions can determine the level of contaminants and pollution found and whether they are high or low,” Moon explained. That, in turn, can give researchers insight into factors that affect water resources.

Moon, of Oakhurst, works with professor Roger Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) and a professor in the School of Engineering.  A lot of Bales’ research involves how climate change affects water resources.  Moon started working in the lab last summer after taking one of Bales’ classes during his freshman year. When the class ended, Bales invited students interested in doing research to contact him.

Moon leapt at the chance.

It’s been a great opportunity,” he said. “I get to do everything – lab work, data analysis and field work.”

The EAL is a state-of-the-art analytical laboratory located on campus. Until recently, the lab was divided into two small locations – Castle and the main campus. In August, lab operations were consolidated, and now, all equipment and analysis are done in the Science and Engineering building.

Getting the chance to work closely with Bales has been one of the highlights of Moon’s time at UC Merced, he said. When he tells some of his former high school classmates about the work he’s doing, he says they get a little green with envy.

I know people at Harvard and UC Berkeley who don’t have access to the kind of hands-on research experiences like undergraduate students do here,” Moon said.

EAL director and associate project scientist Liying Zhao said having students on board is a win-win situation for both the students and the lab. About 20 students are involved in research done through EAL. Most of them are graduate, doctoral and post-doctoral students. But Zhao said there are future plans to increase research opportunities available to more undergraduate students.  

For Moon, the experience he gains now will be invaluable. He said his future plans include pursuing a Ph.D. in mountain hydrology, the study of the movement, distribution and quality of water.