The Externship Program is a research exchange program that allows New Mexico graduate students (with an existing assistantship) to spend a semester or summer doing research at a partnering New Mexico university or research facility. This report is from University of New Mexico student Asifur Rahman about his time as an extern at the USGS New Mexico Water Science Center.

Dr. José Cerrato (pictured above, center-right, receiving his Faculty of Color Award), co-lead of the Uranium Transport and Site Remediation team and Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico, has received numerous awards in the last year in recognition of his outstanding research and commitment to science.

We are continuing our February Spotlight on the STEM Advancement Program, this time through one of our students’ perspective. To date, 25 New Mexico students have been part of STEMAP – 11 students in 2014 and 14 students in 2015. Brianne Willis is a student at Eastern New Mexico University and one of the 25 STEMAP students. Brianne spent her STEMAP Summer doing research on “Assessing Uranium Contamination on the Navajo and Laguna Reservations.”

NM EPSCoR is committed to the state of New Mexico, and we are no stranger to examining the effects of natural (or unnatural) disasters on water and the environment—for example, team members during our last grant were able to study the effects of the Las Conchas Fire on the Valles Caldera. This month, several people on the Uranium Team and the Geothermal Team have formed a collaboration among New Mexico Tech, University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University to research the long-term impact of the recent Animas River contamination from the Gold King Mine. Bonnie Frey, Uranium Team co-lead, wrote the following report about their experience.

On March 6, 2015, I had the privilege of listening to Uranium component team member José Cerrato (UNM) deliver a graduate seminar on his research, "Reactivity of Metals from Abandoned Uranium Mine Wastes in the Southwestern United States". With a background in biogeochemistry, José knows the value of geology, nanoscience, and interdisciplinary study; even though he is in the department of Civil Engineering at UNM, his research brings several disciplines together.

UNM Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Ricardo González-Pinzón is conducting research on rainfall-runoff processes and water quality modeling using parsimonious models. González-Pinzón was recently awarded a faculty water research grant by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI) to implement a hydrological modeling framework that allows estimates of water budgets from stream flow data.

During the month of July 2014, the NM EPSCoR Uranium Transport and Site Remediation component team mentored three minority undergraduate students at UNM by providing hands on experience on a geochemical extraction experiment of mine waste to understand desorption chemical concentrations and kinetics.

José M. Cerrato, a new assistant professor in the UNM Department of Civil Engineering, has a smile that lights up a room when he talks about his work. “I feel blessed to have this job because it is not merely technically teaching a subject,” he says. “It is impacting people’s lives.”

The presence of uranium in groundwater is an issue of great public interest in New Mexico. For many areas in the northeast quadrant of the state, the uranium in underground aquifers has made it unusable for animals or humans. It’s not completely clear how much of the problem should be blamed on natural processes and how much has been caused by uranium mining through the later part of the 20th century.