Classrooms without borders

4/25/2008 | By: Mikalee Byerman  |

It is an exchange program with the potential for significant international economic benefits: Four student scientists from Uzbekistan recently visited the University of Nevada, Reno, as part of a three-year study funded by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Science for Peace program.

Their goal: to investigate the ecology and economic potential of small lakes in Uzbekistan’s Aral Sea basin.

Why the University of Nevada? Laurel Saito, assistant professor for the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources and the project’s principal investigator, notes that the climate and hydrology of Uzbekistan is very similar to Northern Nevada.

“For their country to be self-sustaining, they’ll need to diversify,” she said. “We’re looking at if these lakes in the Khorezm province of Uzbekistan can be used for agriculture, for tourism, for aquaculture or for other uses.”

During their recent Reno visit, the four students — Marhabo Bekchonova, Elena Ginatullina, Nodir Mullabaev and Diana Shermetova — spent time on campus, explored Lake Tahoe and visited the Bay Area and Pyramid Lake.

“We took them to Pyramid on a previous visit,” Saito said. “The tribe enjoyed meeting them and learning about their culture and environment.

“Plus, the issues facing Pyramid Lake are similar to those faced by the lakes back home in Uzbekistan,” she added, explaining that the Aral Sea basin and Pyramid Lake are considered “terminal” environments where water flows in, but doesn’t flow out.

Saito is joined by peers and students on campus at UNR to assist in the investigation. Sudeep Chandra, assistant professor in CABNR’s Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Science, is co-principal investigator. Julian Scott is a graduate student. Saito and Scott visited Uzbekistan shortly after the student scientists visited Reno, and Scott will return for two months this summer.

“All of their English is far better than my Uzbek,” Saito laughed, noting the language barrier is a challenge but worth the effort. “To see the interaction between Uzbek and university students is rewarding, and the long-term implications are beneficial to us all.”

She says the students all hope to become scientists in Uzbekistan, helping the region address economic difficulties thanks to their stateside training.

“When the Soviet Union broke up, there was very little infrastructure to maintain science education,” Saito said. “There is a need for strong international collaboration to keep science going, and this is one small step in that direction.”

NATO’s Science for Peace program partners member countries with less developed countries in order to improve economic stability worldwide. For more information about the Uzbek project, visit the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources website.


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