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Flying squirrels, medieval castles, 20 hours of daylight!

October 24, 2018

NSF grant paves way for paid summer research experiences in Estonia

Travel to northern Europe. Work with leading scientists. Conduct real-world—and really important—research on climate change.

And get paid!

This isn’t a too-good-to-be-true offer. It’s a new project that will involve small groups of select students who will travel to historic and picturesque Estonia to do research over the next three summers. Students will be paid $500 a week over five weeks, plus travel expenses.

NIU Professor Nathan Stansell in the medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia.

The National Science Foundation, through its International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program, awarded a $300,000 grant to NIU geology professors Nathan Stansell and Nicole LaDue to support the project.

Beginning in 2019, Stansell will lead the summertime expeditions to Estonia, tentatively set for late June through July.

Two NIU graduate students, two students from Triton College in River Grove and/or Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove and one working K-12 science teacher from the Chicago region, will be selected for each summer trip. Students from underrepresented groups are especially encouraged to apply. (Community college participants do not have to be science majors but must have successfully completed one physical or life science course.)

Tallinn, Estonia

In addition to Waubsonsee and Triton, NIU is partnering with universities in Estonia and Alaska to train students in interdisciplinary field-based environmental science methods. Because the research is aimed at developing archives of past temperature and precipitation changes from the Baltic region, students will learn to collect sediment core and water samples and analyze water quality, among other tasks.

“This is an incredible opportunity for students to travel, learn to use state-of-the-art research methods and get paid to work in awe-inspiring settings,” Stansell says. “You’re going to be surrounded by stunning nature and culture in a unique part of the world.”

Estonia is rich in history and natural beauty. Bordering the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, the country is home to old castles, churches and hilltop fortresses, as well as bogs, beaches, lakes, islands and virgin forests. Many animal species that have disappeared in other European countries can be still found in Estonia, including the grey wolf, brown bear, European mink and Siberian flying squirrel.

Three of the weeks in Estonia will be spent living in the medieval capital city of Tallinn and working in a laboratory at Tallinn University. Two weeks will be spent in cabins while working in the field with colleagues from both Tallinn University and Tallinn University of Technology. Participants will also enjoy a “midnight sun,” since summertime in Estonia features about 20 hours of daylight each day.

“I’d encourage anyone to apply who wants to see what it’s like to be a scientist from a field-based approach or has an interest in learning more about the environment,” Stansell says.

Student projects will be interrelated and aim to develop a better understanding of how shifting Northern Hemisphere temperatures and mean-state conditions of the North Atlantic Ocean have influenced the climate dynamics of the eastern Baltic region. The datasets to be developed will serve as predictive tools for future variation across the Northern Hemisphere.

“Participant research projects will focus on using lake sediments and wetland deposits as tools to reconstruct past climate conditions,” Stansell says. “When students return from Europe, they’ll complete follow-up laboratory work during the academic year and eventually present their findings at a conference.”

Stipends also will be available to help participants complete their research projects during the school year.

NIU graduate students who are interested in learning more about the program should contact Professor Stansell at [email protected].  Interested community college students should contact David Voorhees at [email protected] or Sheldon Turner at [email protected]. K-12 science teachers can contact Nicole LaDue at [email protected].