“Be safe. Have fun. Do good science.” UNLV biology professor Brian Hedlund started each day with those words as he guided a group of researchers and local teachers on a research trip to China. Seven high school science teachers from the Clark County School District spent three weeks last summer hiking through a mountain rainforest, climbing stairs, and exploring small Chinese towns in order to collect water and soil samples from hot springs as a part of a geomicrobiology research project led by Hedlund and chemistry professor MaryKay Orgill.
The experience was part of the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research and Education Program (PIRE). It encourages large international collaborations — in this case, with Chinese scientists. Under the five-year grant, which began in 2010, scientists are identifying the microscopic organisms living within the Tengchong Geothermal Field in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province and learning how they function and interact. The project seeks to understand how hot spring ecosystems work and their potential contributions to science, biomedicine, and renewable energy.