From zines to the sound of fungi

April 26, 2023 - by Kim Delker

Photo: Savannah Tapia
Savannah Tapia presenting “Learning from Fungi to Engineer Bioremediation.”

When it comes to ways to present research to the public, typical methods include posters and talks that detail the scientific process and findings in a somewhat predictable way.

But imagine communicating research through a painting, a poem or a song.

That’s exactly what happened at the Grand Challenges Sustainable Water Resources Undergraduate Water Science Communication Fellowship presentations April 21 at The University of New Mexico.

Twelve students from a variety of majors were selected to present their water science communication projects as part of the annual Undergraduate Research Opportunity Conference (UROC).

Each student received a $1,000 stipend to complete their communication project, which could be based on either a faculty member’s water research or their own water-related research. No research experience was necessary, and students from both STEM and the humanities were invited to participate.

Sustainable water resources is one of UNM’s three Grand Challenges — problems of global, national and regional significance that require cross-disciplinary solutions — that have been identified as necessary to improve life and the economy of New Mexico.

The scholarship paired undergraduate students with water faculty across campus to create products that communicate their work to the public. Faculty and student mentors worked with the selected students to help explain their research and work together to create a creative communication project that would be used to explain the research to a broad, general audience.

One project was a zine created by international studies/Chicano/a studies student Marisol Chavez, based on the research of mentor Jami Nunez, titled “Community Power.” The zine illustrates the research about importance of supporting community-based water management based on the study of three Central American countries.

Another project, by environmental science student Lila Goleman, featured an original song Goleman composed and wrote, based on the noises that fungi make. The song, titled “Laguna,” details the environmental wreckage of uranium deposits at the Jackpile Mine on the Laguna Pueblo, which contains fungi in the contaminated site.

All of the students who presented were:

  • Kineo Memmer, a student in environmental science, who presented “Monitoring Water Quality at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge.” Mentor: Laura Crossey.
  • Jack Dugan, a civil engineering major, presented “Bio-engineering Wastewater Treatment.” Mentors: Carl Abadam and Andrew Schuler.
  • John Caleb Orr, a construction management major, presented “Insar Mapping and the Devastating Effects of City Subsidence.” Mentor: Eric Lindsey.
  • Sara Atencio-Gonzales, a in journalism and mass communications major, who presented “Making the Microscopic World More Accessible.” Mentor: Becky Bixby.
  • Savannah Tapia, a civil engineering major, who presented “Learning from Fungi to Engineer Bioremediation.” Mentor: Taylor Busch.
  • Derek Capitan, a major in civil engineering, who presented “A Picture Can be Worth a Thousand Words.” Mentor: Elaine El Hayek.
  • Lila Goleman, a major in environmental science, who presented “Bioremediation of Arsenic on Tribal Lands: Song of the Myccorhizal Fungi.” Mentor: Taylor Busch.
  • Anna Linn, an environmental science and sociology major, who presented “Protecting the Resource of Our Past, Present and Future.” Mentors: Adrian Oglesby and John Fleck.
  • Marisol Chavez, an international studies/Chicano/a studies major, who presented “Community Power.” Mentor: Jami Nunez.
  • Arwyn Lewis, a senior in statistics, who presented “Interactive Data Visualization and Nutrient Dynamics in the Jemez River Watershed.” Mentor: Alex Webster.
  • Katherine Leon, a major in civil engineering, who presented “Atmospheric Water Harvesting: How Alternate Water Sources Can be Efficient in Our Environment.” Mentor: Anjali Mulchandani.
  • Christina Klas, a major in economics, who presented “Examining Consumer Interventions to Promote Conservation and Efficiency in Household Water Consumption.” Mentor: Jingjing Wang.

This is the second year that the water science communication event has been held. It was created and organized by Anjali Mulchandani, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, along with Sydney Donohue, outreach coordinator for the Center for Water and the Environment; Alex Webster, a research professor in the Department of Biology; and Kamryn Zachek, who was a fellow last year and this year was the undergraduate program lead.

Mulchandani, who joined UNM in 2021, focuses her research on finding solutions for our water crisis. And although what is happening in the classroom and lab is important, she feels that it is equally important for students to learn early the importance of communicating the mission and progress of their scientific discoveries. That’s why she worked to create an annual event on communicating the progress in the field.

“I’m passionate about teaching students about science communication,” she said. “Communication and outreach of our research is integral for the broader public and policy makers to be aware of new advances and challenges. Science communication is a skill that our students can build that will help them with their own growth and prepare them to enter the workforce.”

The projects can be accessed here, and they will be posted soon on the Undergraduate Research, Arts and Design Network (URAD) website.