Acknowledging Excellence: Prestigious Award Supports Idaho Researcher’s Work in River Science

Wednesday, July 22 2009

July 22, 2009 

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Written by Ken Kingery

MOSCOW, Idaho – With the help of a prestigious national science research grant, a scientist at the University of Idaho’s Center for Ecohydraulics Research in Boise, will support the research work of four university students, fund a 10th grade Women in Science summer camp, and investigate how logging and other human activities affect sedimentation in rivers.

The $455,000, five-year award for Elowyn Yager, assistant professor at CER, comes from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant, which is the organization’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty. It will support Yager’s work over the next five years in recognition of her excellence in research and education, and the integration of the two.

“We knew that Dr. Yager is one of the rising stars in water research at the national and international level,” said Don Blackketter, dean of the College of Engineering. “I am delighted that she has been recognized so early in her career at the University of Idaho”

Yager’s research focuses on fluvial geomorphology – the science of rivers in the landscape. She studies how rivers transport sediment to predict how environmental changes including fires, logging and landslides will affect mountain ecosystems. The work has direct implications for the restoration of spawning habitats of salmon and the maintenance of quality river habitats.

The grant will fund two graduate students and two undergraduate students who will receive hands-on research training both in the field and at CER. At field sites ranging from Idaho to Chile, the students will measure flow, sediment inputs to streams and sediment transport, which can partially be determined by painting and tagging rocks to see where the rivers take them.

“This will build on my dissertation, which involved developing an equation to predict sediment transport in mountain streams,” said Yager. “But this project will look more at the mechanics of grain motion to understand why that equation works and to improve estimates of sediment transport.”

To model and understand the underlying mechanisms, students will utilize a flume nearly 70 feet long and 6 feet wide that mimics a scaled-down river basin located in the basement of CER. Combined with computer analysis and modeling, the scientists can control parameters to see how different variables affect sediment transport.

“What Elowyn does is bridge the gap between being an engineer and solving practical problems and being a research scientist studying the fundamental processes,” said Peter Goodwin, director of CER. “Clearly the National Science Foundation has recognized her work as something rather special.”

Besides the river sedimentation research, the grant also provides funding for a 10th grade summer camp aimed at getting more women to enter scientific fields after high school. The four-day camp likely will bring professional women in science and engineering to speak while taking the young women out to lakes and rivers to experience field research.

The Center for Ecohydraulics Research opened in 2004. Its purpose is to serve the people of Idaho, the nation and the world by linking the understanding of physical processes with ecological responses, understanding the consequences of how rivers are regulated and managed, and learning what can be done to best provide irrigation and water deliveries while minimizing environmental consequences.

Learn more about CER at
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

Media Contact: Ken Kingery, University Communications, (208) 885-9156,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit