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Two U of I Faculty Members Earn National Recognition for Research

May 10, 2018

Two University of Idaho faculty members have received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for early career scholars.

Christine Parent, an assistant professor of biological sciences and member of the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies (IBEST), and Eric Mittelstaedt, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics, both in the U of I College of Science, earned Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards, along with a combined $1.7 million in research funding.

The goal of the National Science Foundation’s CAREER awards is to fund the research and education activities of early-career faculty.

“Through this work, these two talented junior faculty are establishing themselves and the U of I as leaders in research and education,” said Ginger Carney, College of Science dean at the U of I. “They will provide important insights while training U of I students to become contributors to science.”

As part of the award, Parent will receive $1.093 million in funds over five years to support her research into the evolutionary processes responsible for shaping the visible characteristics of species in the Galapagos Islands. Her research will focus on Naesiotus land snails, which display a wide range of physical and functional variations after adapting to a variety of environments across the islands. Through an educational component of the grant, she will teach U of I undergraduate students the many facets of biodiversity through hands-on courses.

Her work will provide scientists with new species identification tools and conservation recommendations for the Galapagos.

“I feel that I have been given a remarkable opportunity to contribute to my research field, but also to use my research to bring the study of islands in the classroom at the U of I,” Parent said. “Nearly 25 years ago, I had the chance to visit the Galapagos for the first time; now I have a chance to share some of this experience with undergraduates.”

Mittelstaedt was given nearly $600,000 over five years to investigate shifts in the locations of Earth’s diverging oceanic plate boundaries. These are known as ridge jumps, an occurrence that sometimes challenges the established conventions of plate tectonics. He will use 3-D numerical simulations and laboratory experiments to quantify the roles of magma movement, plate motion changes, and other factors governing the development and evolution of ridge jumps. This will be the first such study on using 3-D numerical simulations.

“The Earth is our only home, and understanding one of its most special and unique aspects, plate tectonics, is something that I find fascinating,” said Mittelstaedt. “Without plate tectonics, Earth would likely not be hospitable for life, and none of us would be here.”

Mittelstaedt’s project also will engage undergraduate students in developing video games aimed at teaching marine geology to primary and secondary school students in an entertaining and accessible way.

“These well-deserved awards for Christine Parent and Eric Mittelstaedt exemplify the outstanding research conducted at our university,” said Janet E. Nelson, vice president for Research and Economic Development at the University of Idaho. “Their work also highlights the innovative ways we engage students in research and STEM activities.”

Parent’s work will be funded by a project titled, “Islands as Models to Study Effects of Multidimensional Selection.” It was funded under National Science Foundation grant No. 1751157. The total amount of federal funds for the project is $1,093,880, which amounts to 100 percent of its total cost.

Mittelstaedt’s work will be funded by a project titled, “Quantifying the influence of Magmatism, Tectonics, Hydrothermal Cooling, and Hotspots on the Dynamic Evolution of Divergent Plate Boundaries.” It was funded under National Science Foundation grant No. 1753354. The total amount of federal funds for the project is $599,643, which amounts to 100 percent of its total cost.

Media Contact:
Phillip Bogdan
Marketing and Communications Manager,
Office of Research and Economic Development
University of Idaho

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The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at