Red Cloud Student Supports Biofuel Research,
Works with University Scientists

posted on August 5, 2013

As Randy Hughes ‘15 sat in his seat, waiting on the tarmac for the plane to take him home to South Dakota, he thought about how this summer differed from those of most students his age. Randy spent the majority of his summer vacation working with researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Summer Science Institute studying how environmental conditions affect the growth of Populus Tremuloides, commonly known as Trembling Aspen, a tree found in cooler, higher elevation areas of North America.

“I learned about this opportunity through my chemistry teacher, Wendell Gehman.” says Randy.  He decided to apply to the program during a parent-teacher conference at Red Cloud Indian School, where he will soon be starting his junior year. “Within a matter of weeks I received my response: I had been accepted! It was particularly exciting for me because I had never attended a summer program before and I really love my science classes.”

During the program Randy worked with his partner, Abigail Staples, in Dr. Rick Lindroth’s Laboratory, where the University professor is investigating how different environmental factors—such as soil fertility and genetic competition—are affecting the growth of aspen trees, which reproduces by cloning itself through sprouting new trees from its root system. According to Hilary Bultman, a Ph.D. student in Lindroth’s lab and Randy’s research mentor, the project’s scope goes well beyond creating a better understanding of forest ecology. “It actually has implications for biofuel production,” she explains.

The University of Wisconsin is a leading innovator in biofuel research and production. And, with the growing need to secure alternative and renewable fuels to meet our country’s increasing energy needs, Randy’s summer research is having a real effect on building a greener future.

As the Summer Science Institute approached its end, Randy and Abigail had a chance to present their research during a poster presentation to their colleagues and other university research scientists. Randy says it was a welcome opportunity to gain experience and receive feedback on their work. Based on the response to their research, the pair developed a presentation that was shown at an university-wide symposium presenting the cumulative work produced by their laboratory.

In addition to the innovative research Randy produced this summer, he was also able to take courses in math, research ethics, race and diversity and to attend collegiate seminars on careers in biology and the sciences.

After a full summer of intensive research, Randy is bringing new skills and knowledge back to Pine Ridge and to his junior year of classes at Red Cloud. After he graduates from Red Cloud, he plans to apply and expand those skills when he returns to the university setting as a college student to pursue his own interests and questions. Looking back on his experience in Wisconsin, Randy says he knows his education will allow him to make a difference—in the sciences, and in building a strong future for himself and his community.

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