University Letter

UND's faculty and staff newsletter

March 22-24: Science Cafés with the Center for Regional Climate Studies

The 48th Annual UND Writers Conference, “Citizen,” asks what role, if any, literature and art can play in can addressing issues, such as health care, women’s reproductive rights, immigration, policing/prison reform, and the economy. However, in order to be a good citizen—whether of North Dakota or the world—one must also consider the role of science.

CRCS_logo_horizontal (1)To start answering this question, ND EPSCoR’s Center for Regional Climate Studies (CRCS) will host a series of Science Cafés in a separate, but co-located, event during the UND Writers Conference.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports ND EPSCoR, or North Dakota’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, along with matching funds from the North Dakota State Legislature. NSF EPSCoR’s general mission is to help colleges and universities in states like North Dakota to become more competitive in their applications for federal research funds.

VPRC 8669 EPSCOR logo FullBut, central to ND EPSCoR’s goal is the promotion of scientific discovery, innovation, education and training, as well as economic, professional, and workforce development to all of North Dakota, not only through North Dakota University System schools ranging from UND and NDSU to Dickinson and Valley City State, among others, but also to the state’s five tribal colleges, like Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College and Turtle Mountain Community College.

In order to achieve these goals, it is essential that the people of North Dakota have an idea of what the research scientists across the state and their students are doing: Enter the CRCS Science Cafés Series.

On March 22, CRCS researchers Cindy Juntunen and Ashley Hutchison from UND’s College of Education and Human Development, along with their graduate student Meara Thombre will present “Helpful Hydrogels: A Useful Tool for Hands-on Learning.” Hydrogels are a kind of nontoxic polymer that can absorb 500 times their weight worth of water. This unique characteristic of hydrogels makes them very useful material for creating such things as contact lens and diapers. However, one of the most important uses of hydrogels is to help keep lakes and rivers clean by preventing water runoff and soil erosion. In this demonstration, they will show how hydrogels can be used in the classroom to help young students get engaged with hands on learning. This talk will be followed by a period of time when the presenters will answer questions from the audience.

On the following day, Thursday, March 23, Aaron Kennedy—CRCS researcher, storm chaser, photographer, and a faculty member in UND’s Department of Atmospheric Science—will present “Extreme Weather of the Northern Plains.” Kennedy will discuss how, for over a century, residents of this region have shown resiliency against the spectrum of hazardous weather phenomena. He will also talk about how events ranging from blizzards, to temperature extremes, to tornadoes have economic, personal, and societal impacts on our region. This presentation will explain why and when these events occur, and how they have varied over recent years. It will be followed by a period of time when Kennedy will answer questions from the audience.

Finally, on Friday, March 24, Anne Denton, CRCS researcher and member of NDSU’s Department of Computer Science and Operations Research, will present “Fractal Dimension of Remotely Sensed Data.” In addition to explaining what fractals and remotely sensed data are, Denton will talk about how the availability and resolution of images from satellites and unmanned air systems (UAS) are rapidly increasing, which means that we can ask questions that were only of theoretical interest in the past. One such question is the fractal dimension of geographical features. Take the coasts of lakes or oceans. Coastlines have bays and peninsula on a large scale, but when we zoom in, details may become visible that were hidden on the larger scale. Structures that have this property are called self-similar or “fractal.” She will look at the fractal nature of the coastline of Lake Sakakawea and show how the fractal dimension can be calculated. In fact, as Denton will demonstrate, it has become so easy to do these computations that the local fractal dimension can be treated as an additional layer of information, much like data from a different kind of physical sensor, but cheaper to obtain. This talk will be followed by a period of time when Denton will answer questions from the audience.

All events are free and open to the public and will take place at 11 a.m. in UND’s Memorial Union Lecture Bowl. Free parking is available (please use the UND Writers Conference designated lots).  For more information visit