Science fuels technology development, builds workforce

Science and mathematics is the foundation that fuels the technological revolution of the 21st century. At the URN College of Science, we embody that proposition and bring science to our State and community through partnerships with business and industry, groundbreaking research, several public service departments and bringing to the workforce graduates with high-tech skills needed to help transform the economy of Nevada.

The college encompasses a variety of important research in biology, neuroscience, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and earth sciences and engineering. The research, in all areas of the college, always involves students. It helps prepare them for moving into the workforce, with a wealth of technical skills and problem-solving abilities for their professional careers. About 400 graduates enter the workforce each year.

Our graduates go directly into the workforce or eventually build their own businesses. For example, through the University's Technology Transfer Office, two geophysics graduate students Bill Honjas and Satish Pullammanappallil licensed a technology and built a company, Optim, Inc., which has become a successful international geotechnical software firm and resource exploration company. Alumni Dan Kappes and Mike Cassiday built Kappes, Cassiday & Associates, which has specialized in the development, engineering and implementation of extractive metallurgical processes for the mining industry since 1972.

Another College of Science graduate, Charles "Kevin" McArthur, operates his successful Tahoe Resources Company. Two graduates, Fred and John Gibson, developed and manage American Pacific, a Nevada chemical company that contracts with NASA and the pharmaceutical industry. Gene McClelland started the successful McClelland Labs here in Nevada, which provides metallurgical testing and research processes to extract gold, silver and copper for mining companies. Dennis Bryan, last year honored as a distinguished Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering Alumni, is a senior vice-president at Western Lithium Corporation, another successful Nevada company. Many of our students get jobs at local hospitals, jobs as chemists with the pharmaceutical testing company Charles River, or jobs with one of the many Nevada mining companies. Many of our graduates also complete advanced degrees in the health professions and work in the areas of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and health care management.

These are just a few examples of the successes of our graduates who leave the University and enter the workforce, contributing to the economic development of Nevada. The academic and career options in the College of Science that can prepare students for high-tech jobs in Nevada are many: atmospheric science, biology, cell and molecular biology, chemical physics, chemistry, geography, geological engineering, geology, geophysics, hydrogeology, hydrology, land-use planning, mathematics, metallurgical engineering, neuroscience, physics and statistics.

The college's education, research and outreach missions not only promote scientific and numerical literacy, but also create an awareness of the value of science in addressing society's problems and enhancing economic development.

The college has long-standing relationships with the mining industry and geothermal industry, as well as pharmaceutical and chemical companies in Nevada.

The teaching of mining engineering, metallurgical engineering and geology has been recognized as an important part of education since the time of Nevada's statehood in1865. Today the mining industry continues to be a major factor in Nevada's economy, with the seventh highest GDP in the state.

Our Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering is among the leaders in the teaching of mining-related disciplines and related research, which benefits the mining industry statewide, nationally and internationally. We provide important research on technical issues for the mining industry such as blast movement technology, instruments to monitor airflow in underground mines, robotic excavators, new exploration techniques and more. Some of the benefits to industry and Nevada's economy are improved operations leading to lower costs, safer operations and management of environmental impacts.

Mackay also has one of the strongest groups of geophysicists in the country, with faculty in the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering, Nevada Seismological Laboratory and the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, and one of the largest groups of practicing economic geologists in the country, ranking among the three top economic geology programs in the United States.

The Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy is one of the strongest geothermal research and service programs in the nation. The Great Basin Center conducts research toward the establishment of geothermal energy as an economically viable energy source within the Great Basin. The center specializes in collecting and synthesizing geologic, geochemical, geodetic, geophysical and tectonic data, and using Geographic Information System technology to view and analyze this data and to produce favorability maps of geothermal potential. Ultimately, this research helps industry by providing the baseline studies that are absolutely needed if geothermal is going to expand in Nevada and across the country.

Our work will help industry achieve acceptable levels of site selection risk ahead of expensive drilling. For example, one study, funded by the Department of Energy for $1 million, will find and characterize geothermal sites throughout Nevada. It could cost a company $1 million up to $4 million for exploration for just one well, and then $1 million for drilling in the hopes they hit a viable source. Previous work has been instrumental in leading to the discovery, development and/or expansion of several geothermal fields in Nevada, such as Desert Queen, Desert Peak and Salt Wells.

The College of Science faculty average over $20 million a year in extramural research funding from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA and the Department of Energy. This funding supports undergraduate and graduate education in areas vital to the 21st century economy in Nevada. For example, the Nevada Terawatt Facility houses some of the largest plasma generators and high-energy lasers on a college campus in the United States. In addition to the research on the development of stars and the basic understanding of plasma physics, the facility is studying new ways to produce electrical energy, and radiation from the experiments is being harnessed to develop new biological assays. Basic research in chemistry is being applied to cell phone displays and the development of new drugs and solar array materials.

The Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology is a research and public service unit of UNR and is the state geological survey. Bureau scientists conduct research and publish reports on mineral resources, engineering geology, environmental geology, hydrogeology,and geologic mapping all useful to business and industry in Nevada.

Seismic hazards and risks are monitored by our Nevada Seismological Laboratory, and information is disseminated so public agencies and the community can be informed and prepared for earthquakes in Nevada, the third-most seismically active state in the country. The laboratory, another of our public service units, helps create risk assessments so public planners can strategize appropriately for seismic risk and mitigate potential economic losses, as well as loss of life.

Our seismology department has found and studied fault lines under Lake Tahoe, discovering evidence of ancient tsunamis that could occur again if the fault ruptures, not an unlikely event. They've identified fault lines running under downtown Reno, they just finished the groundwork in studying faults that run through Carson City, and the list keeps going.

The Nevada Climate Office studies the impacts of drought on our arid climate and provides expertise as the state manages its response to the current drought conditions.

The College of Science contributes to the emerging high-tech economies in Nevada through education, research and public service in our State. The faculty, staff and students in the college look forward to the Nevada's of tomorrow and will continue to develop opportunities and educate students that will be the workforce and leadership of Nevada's future.

Jeff Thompson is dean of the University of Nevada, Reno College of Science.


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