UAA faculty, students present first projects funded by ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment

April 19, 2017

What do pipeline corrosion, plastic waste, snow loads and geophysics have in common? Each was the focus of a UAA project that received funding from the ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment for fiscal year 2016. On March 31, UAA faculty and students presented the results of their projects to an audience of ConocoPhillips executives and UAA leadership. The projects and presenters included:

  • Accelerated Corrosion Under Insulation (CUI) Test Apparatus (Matt Cullin, associate professor, mechanical engineering)
  • The Impacts of Plastic on Western Aleutian Islands Seabirds: Detection of Phthalates in Muscle and Embryonic Tissues (Veronica Padula, graduate student, biological sciences)
  • Snow Cover in Alaska (Kurt Meehleis, graduate student, civil engineering)
  • Petroleum Geology at UAA: Geophysics Faculty and ConocoPhillips Subsurface Laboratory Support (Jennifer Aschoff, professor, geological sciences)

On March 31, 2017, a group of UAA faculty and students presented their research to ConocoPhillips Alaska executives. Four research projects were the first to be funded by the ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment. Pictured from left to right: Christophe Mornet, Matthew Cullin, Tom Case, Portia Babcock, Veronica Padula, Jennifer Aschoff, Kurt Meehleis, Lisa Bruner, Lisa Pekich, Scott Jepsen, Paul Rusch (Photo by Philip Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

The four projects are the first that were funded by the endowment, which was created with a $15 million gift from ConocoPhillips Alaska. The endowment is expected to have available about $300,000 to $500,000 a year for research and related activities that develop Arctic science and engineering programs at UAA. Winning projects are selected after a rigorous evaluation process involving submission of a formal proposal and review by a UAA committee.

One of the goals of the endowment is to fund projects that will have a continuing impact on Arctic science and engineering research without ongoing support from the fund. Preference is given to projects that involve Alaska students, communities, projects and opportunities, but more important is that the project develop UAA students, programs and research so as to grow and sustain academic contributions to Arctic issues.

Matt Cullin, associate professor of mechanical engineering, presents his work on Accelerated Corrosion Under Insulation (CUI) Test Apparatus. (Photo by Philip Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Associate Professor Matt Cullin’s project, which is building a test apparatus for determining how corrosion occurs in the type of insulated metal pipes used by the oil and gas industry, was the only project of the four to receive funding for both the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. Cullin sought funding for a two-year timeline because he wanted students to design the apparatus from start to finish. “It takes longer when you involve students,” he said, “but it’s an important learning process for them to test different ideas and construct something of their own design.”

The team that studied the impacts of plastics on seabirds also employed a strong student contingent. The project is the focus of graduate student Veronica Padula’s doctoral research, and undergraduates are helping with many aspects of her research.

“This research is providing our students with valuable skills and knowledge to make them uniquely qualified for careers in science, engineering or their chosen field,” UAA Chancellor Tom Case said.

But the benefits of the endowment extend beyond just UAA students. “The work this endowment supports is of critical importance to the state and the nation,” Case said.

The UAA Department of Geological Sciences (Professors Jennifer Aschoff, LeeAnn Munk and Erin Shea) received funding from the endowment to partially support a new geophysics professor and subsurface computer lab that will bring 3-D visualization and seismic data interpretation capability to UAA. Subsurface data are used regularly for oil and gas exploration, appraisal, production and development, and the specialized faculty and computer lab will not only help train future geoscientists for careers in the oil and gas industry, but also foster collaborative research with industry using subsurface geologic data. “This lab and geophysics expertise could spark new partnerships to solve problems, and find new energy opportunities in Alaska and beyond,” Aschoff said.

Another project the endowment funded may have benefits not only for industry, but also for every Alaskan. Graduate student Kurt Meehleis presented the results from his team’s project, which collected and analyzed snow-load data from across the state. He explained their findings showed a need to update current building code estimates that rely on the snow-load data. In some locations, especially Barrow and Cordova, there was a significant difference between current building code estimates and the data UAA found. This exciting result could prevent incidents such as the collapse of The Dome roof, which occurred in Anchorage this winter. The project team has already started taking steps to make its data publicly available.

Biological sciences graduate student Veronica Padula presents her research on the impacts of plastic on Western Aleutian Islands seabirds. (Photo by Philip Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

“These first projects funded by the ConocoPhillips endowment showcase the far-reaching impacts of this funding not only for UAA students and faculty, but for businesses and communities in Alaska,” Case said. “It’s a great example of how UAA is partnering with industry to accomplish mutually beneficial goals and make a positive impact that extends well beyond campus.”

Five additional UAA projects were funded by the endowment for the 2017 fiscal year; those are underway. Proposals for projects seeking funding for fiscal year 2018 are being accepted through Oct. 1.

Visit the chancellor’s website for more information about the endowment, details on the selection process and a link to the request for proposal.


Written by Anne Gore, UAA Office of University Advancement

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