You are here

Bugs and Byproducts

Two Millennium Scholars make their marks in the College of Sciences.
People  |  Nov 28, 2012  |  By Shane Bevell
Millennium Scholars Michael Webber and Edward Mausolf. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Edward Mausolf studies the nuclear fuel cycle. Michael Webber studies scorpions. Both came to UNLV on the Millennium Scholarship and earned their bachelor's degrees. Now they're pursing doctorates and racking up accomplishments for the College of Sciences.

Creepy, Crawly Things

The science bug bit Webber early, she said. "I have always loved animals, and I am especially fascinated by rattlesnakes and scorpions. But as funny as it sounds, I am terrified of spiders, ants, and cockroaches. I know it's irrational but I have no explanation."

Webber is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Life Sciences and recently was awarded a highly competitive Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation for her research involving female bark scorpions.

The Mojave High School graduate took an undergraduate herpetology course from professor Javier Rodriguez, now her faculty advisor, and was hooked. She focused on scorpions because the arthropod is more plentiful and is a better species to answer the evolutionary questions that fascinated her.

Webber's dissertation looks at the negative impacts of reproduction on the daily activities of female bark scorpions. Her research also will help explain such questions of life as to how limited resources influence the way in which female bark scorpions reproduce. Earlier this year, she was part of a team that verified a new species of scorpion in Death Valley.

Community outreach is important to Webber, who often makes presentations to local school children. "I want to get the little kids as excited as I remember being when biologists would come and talk. They think seeing a scorpion glow under black light is the greatest thing in the world," said Webber, who this summer volunteered to lead a group of 100 people on a scorpion hunt as part of the "Let's Explore After Dark" program at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Changing Paths

Mausolf wasn't a good student as a kid. But that changed after a counselor approached him in 8th grade and told him about the possibility of going to college using the Millennium Scholarship. He's now on track to receive his doctorate in radiochemistry in December. He took first place earlier this year in a U.S. Department of Energy competition for his investigation into the behavior of a radioactive byproduct of nuclear energy.

The Las Vegas native started college at UNR. It wasn't a good fit, so he returned to Las Vegas and UNLV to major in chemistry.

With his bachelor's under his belt, he was ready to take a job as a water quality chemist at the Las Vegas Valley Water District when Ken Czerwinski, radiochemistry chair, asked him if he wanted to go to graduate school.

"I turned down the job offer because I realized that going to graduate school was a rare opportunity, and in the long run a degree in radiochemistry would set me apart from others," he said.

Mausolf studies the nuclear fuel cycle and waste forms -- researching how to make waste more stable so it can be safely stored. The Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research competition recognizes students from across the nation for outstanding research publications. Mausolf took top prize in the category of Waste Forms for a unique analysis of the radioactive element technetium, a common product of nuclear fission.

UNLV is one of a few universities in the country that can perform research with technetium. The radiochemistry program's ability to work with radioactive elements is the basis for numerous collaborations with U.S. Department of Energy laboratories, universities, and international laboratories.

"I have been very lucky here at UNLV," Mausolf said. "I have taken away more than just a degree. I have learned business savvy, the ability to write and be understood, and critical thinking skills. I owe UNLV more than I will ever be able to give back."