What does it mean for FYRES students to be “immersed in dune research”? Three types of activities exemplify how students are involved in research.
1. Short Studies during the Weekly Lab Period
Occurring in the early part of the semester, the short studies have students investigating dune topography, how wind interacts with dune surfaces to cause erosion and deposition, and patterns of human impacts and management actions in dune environments. Goals for the short studies include:
• Providing students with opportunities to get to know the dunes by working in a number of different dune environments. Students will work on small and large dunes, active and stable dunes, and remote and heavily-visited dunes.
• Giving students experience with a variety of methods, instruments and analysis tools that are used to study dunes. Students will learn to survey, set up wind instruments, trap sand, collect GPS (global positioning system) data, and map results using GIS (geographic information systems) software.
• Collecting data for ongoing research projects to improve the scientific understanding of dunes and help dune managers with their programs. Students will monitor the effectiveness of dune management at one site, record wind-flow patterns at another site, and document dune characteristics at sites that have not been previously studied.
2. Course Assignments
Occurring in the early part of the semester, the course assignments break down the research process into steps to give students experience with different aspects of science investigations. Students will learn how to:
- read and understand primary literature such as journal articles on dune activity
- investigate a dune topic by analyzing information from several different sources
- construct a research hypothesis
- design a short study to test a hypothesis
- analyze data using spreadsheet and mapping software
- communicate information in written form
- present results in short informal and formal oral presentations.
Students will then put their learning into practice in the Research Project.
3. The Research Project
In the second half of the semester, six teams of FYRES students design and carry out their own coastal dune research investigations. Each research team consists of 4 students and a FYRES research mentor to provide guidance and logistical support (such as driving the team to a field research location). Teams will be assembled according to student interests in research topics that are presented to the students by the research mentors.
Each team investigation will focus on a dune question that has not been previously studied and is of scientific or community interest, or both. For example, one research team could investigate why a stable dune suddenly began advancing inland, another team could investigate how a set of dunes will react if a certain level of climate change occurs, and another team could investigate the patterns of dune visitors to a popular park and their impacts on the dunes in the park.
The research teams will collect background information on their topic, construct a hypothesis, design methods to test the hypothesis, collect field data, analyze the data and interpret the study results to reach a conclusion about the hypothesis. At the end of the semester, the research teams will present their studies to the class in an oral presentation and to a broader audience in a poster session.
Although FYRES student involvement officially ends with the semester, the research mentors will continue work in January and February to create scientific reports describing their team investigations. The students in each research team will be coauthors on the report and will receive a copy of the completed report. The reports will also be given to the dune managers or others who can benefit from the results.
Each research mentor will also present the results of their team’s research at a professional conference: the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters meeting held in March. All FYRES students are invited to attend the conference to see the conference presentations on their research.