Quick Looks

Meradeth SnowUM’s Own
Renaissance Woman

Meradeth Snow leads a double life.

By day, she synthesizes ancient DNA to uncover lost histories of past populations while also teaching anthropology. By night, however, she assumes the persona of Meradeth Houston, author of young-adult fantasy literature.

A UM assistant professor of anthropology, Snow specializes in molecular anthropology, which involves the study of DNA to more thoroughly understand populations.

“I have a focus in ancient DNA, so I tend to look at the DNA of past individuals, either through their skeletal remains or other things that they’ve had close contact with, like pipe stems or stone tools,” Snow says. “For my dissertation I worked on populations from the desert Southwest, like the Ancestral Puebloans — more commonly known as the Anasazi — and how the populations are related to one another within the Southwest and bigger regional areas.”

In addition to spending time in the lab, Snow teaches a number of undergraduate courses in anthropology. But once the lab work is done and classes are over, Snow throws herself into her writing. An author of four young-adult fantasy novels with several others in the works, she embraced her love of writing at a young age.

“I’ve always been a voracious reader, and at some point along the way, I realized that if I couldn’t find more books to read about things I really enjoy, I could actually write them myself,” Snow explains. “I wrote my first novel in junior high, and that was just for fun. It was something that gave me a good escape and also provided me with something entertaining to do.”

When asked how she manages to juggle teaching, research and writing, Snow has one piece of advice. “Don’t watch a lot of TV,” she says. “That’s my biggest tip, honestly. I don’t have a whole lot of free time, I’ll admit. I work crazy hours, and it’s a lot of work.
But if you want to do something, it has got to be your goal.”

Snow has published four novels — “Colors Like Memories,” “The Chemistry of Fate,” “Surrender the Sky” and “An Absence of Light” — under the name Meradeth Houston — Houston being her maiden name. Her work may be purchased through Amazon, the UM Bookstore and various other booksellers. More information about her books can be found on her website or blog.  

— By Ashlynn Andersen

UM Helps NASA Get the Dirt on Soil Moisture

The SMAP orbiter (NASA image)NASA launched a satellite on Jan. 29 to peer into the topmost layer of Earth’s soils to measure the hidden waters that influence our ecosystems, weather and climate.

UM Professor John Kimball is among the team of researchers involved in the project. He developed algorithms that digest the vast amount of data collected by the satellite and spit them into a software platform that estimates and monitors global land-atmosphere carbon dioxide exchange, ecosystem productivity and underlying environmental controls.

“We’ve been working with NASA for almost a decade to develop methods for effective global monitoring of surface soil moisture and freeze-thaw status from satellites,” Kimball says. “These parameters are very dynamic and strongly impact weather, climate and ecosystem processes, including vegetation growth.”

The Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, mission can produce the most accurate, highest-resolution global maps ever obtained from space of the moisture present in the top 2 inches of Earth’s soils. It also detects and maps whether the land surface is frozen or thawed.

Kimball and his team hope to reduce uncertainty regarding the status and potential vulnerability of the global carbon sink, and better understand relationships between global water, carbon and energy cycles. These new observations will benefit a variety of applications, including regional assessment and monitoring of vegetation productivity and health, as well as drought impacts to forests, rangelands and agricultural systems.

Globally, the volume of soil moisture varies between 3 and 5 percent in desert and arid regions, to between 40 and 50 percent in saturated soils. In general, the amount depends on factors such as precipitation patterns, topography and more. From space, SMAP will produce global maps with 2- to 6-mile resolution every two to three days.

Faculty Help Launch Bhutan Ecological Journal 

UM researchers and a doctoral student recently helped launch a scientific journal in Bhutan.

Proceedings of the Bhutan Ecological Society was created with assistance from UM’s College of Forestry and Conservation. Faculty members Jill Belsky, Mark Hebblewhite and Steve Siebert, as well as doctoral student Tshering Tempa, are members of the editorial board for the journal. Former UM faculty member Scott Mills and former doctoral student Ellen Cheng also served on the board.

Belsky, Hebblewhite and Siebert all have worked in Bhutan on a variety of research projects – from studying Asian tigers to looking at historic livelihoods – for more than a decade. UM has had a formal memorandum of understanding with UWICE since 2012.

Proceedings will cover various ecological issues facing Bhutan in its next issue, including the challenges of hydroelectric power. The journal can be read online.

Research: Air Pollution Affects Short-Term Memory, IQ

City smog lowers children’s IQ. This is among findings from a recent UM study that found children living in cities with significant air pollution are at an increased risk for detrimental impacts to the brain, including short-term memory loss and lower IQ.

Findings by UM Professor Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas and her team of researchers reveal that children with lifetime exposures to concentrations of air pollutants above the current U.S. standards, including fine particulate matter, are at an increased risk for brain inflammation and neurodegenerative changes, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Calderón-Garcidueñas’ findings are detailed in a paper titled “Decreases in Short-Term Memory, IQ and Altered Brain Metabolic Rations in Urban Apolipoprotein ε4 Children Exposed to Air Pollution.”

The study found that clinically healthy children who live in a polluted environment and who also carry a gene – the apolipoprotein ε4 allele, already known to increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease – demonstrated compromised cognitive responses when compared with children carrying a gene with apolipoprotein ε3 allele.

Mexico City is an example of extreme urban growth and environmental pollution, where 8 million children are involuntarily exposed to harmful concentrations of fine particulate matter in the air every day.

The study matched two groups of children living in Mexico City by multiple variables, including age, gender, socioeconomic status and education. It then compared children carrying the ε4 allele to children carrying the ε3 allele and found that those with the ε4 allele had three significant alterations. They had short-term memory shortfalls, an IQ that, while within the normal limits, measured 10 points less, and changes in key metabolites in the brain that mirror those of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“The results add to growing data suggesting ε4 carriers could have a higher risk of developing early Alzheimer’s disease if they reside in a polluted
urban environment,” Calderón-Garcidueñas says.

Professor Earns Caribbean Philosophical
Association Outstanding Book Award

BoisseronA UM professor’s cross-cultural analysis received one of the top book awards from the Caribbean Philosophical Association.

Benedicte Boisseron, an associate professor of French and Francophone language and literature at UM, received the Nicolás Guillén Outstanding Book Award for “Creole Renegades: Rhetoric of Betrayal and Guilt in the Caribbean Diaspora.”

“This book was important for me to write because it carries an autobiographical resonance,” Boisseron says. Her father is from Guadeloupe, a French Caribbean island. He moved to France when he was 17 years old, where he met Boisseron’s mother.
“Now back in Guadeloupe, my father is somehow seen as a ‘Creole renegade,’” which is part of the book’s title, Boisseron says. “Likewise for me as a half-Guadeloupean who was not taught Creole while growing up in France.”

The award committee’s evaluator called Boisseron’s book “a brilliant text. Its original investigation into the problem of cultural affiliation, loyalty and betrayal in movement between the Caribbean, North America, Europe and beyond marks it as a major contribution to postcolonial studies, Caribbean studies, African-American studies and new-world studies,” the evaluator wrote.

“Specialists and general readers alike will appreciate its examination of fundamental aspects of our postcolonial and globalized experiences, including the enigmas of creoleness, and returning and leaving ‘home,’ as well as Boisseron’s incisive literary analysis and theoretical approaches,” the review continued.

French Professor Ione Crummy, Boisseron’s colleague in UM’s Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, read and edited the book. Boisseron published the book in 2014 and was informed of her award in early 2015. She will attend an awards ceremony June 18-21 in Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Study Finds High Impact From Montana’s High-Tech Businesses

Montana’s high-tech industry will grow 8 to 10 times the projected statewide growth rate, with average wages at about $50,000 – twice the median earnings per Montana worker, according to a recent study by the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

BBER Director Patrick Barkey conducted the study, which was commissioned by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. It found that high-tech jobs in Montana outpace other sectors and hold high growth potential.

“The result showed high-tech employers on average to be younger, higher-paying and more growth-focused than the economy as a whole and that Montana quality-of-life plays an important role in their competitiveness,” Barkey says.

Some of the findings include:

  • The Montana-based activities of MHTBA members were responsible for $632 million in gross sales in 2014.
  • Alliance members expect to net more than 400 new jobs in 2015, a much stronger job growth than has occurred in the overall economy.
  • High-tech businesses that are MHTBA members expect to make at least $35 million in capital expenditures at their Montana facilities in 2015.
  • Montana’s quality of life – its lifestyle, the work/life balance available here, the recreation opportunities and the beauty of the landscape – provide MHTBA members a significant advantage in business.

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