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Wheaton senior wins Fulbright

The impact of a warming Earth on arctic glaciers will be the subject of senior Megan O’Sadnick’s research as a 2009 Fulbright Scholar.

osadnick1.jpgMegan O'Sadnick '09 traces her fascination with the natural landscape to hiking, canoeing and skiing trips she took with her parents while growing up in Colorado.

That longstanding interest in the natural world and the forces that shape and re-shape our planet has inspired her studies at Wheaton, and it will take her to Norway to join an ongoing study of glaciers as a window on the arctic's response to a warming environment.

O'Sadnick has been named a 2009 Fulbright Scholar, and she will join a research team at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) studying glaciers located on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard. Specifically, she will focus on analyzing snow depth measurements collected on three glaciers and comparing those results with radar data. Her work could help scientists to make more extensive use of radar data in the study of polar regions.

"The findings will help enhance predictions of how these glaciers may behave in the future," she wrote in her Fulbright proposal. "In addition, this knowledge can be applied to other smaller glaciers to better judge their possible influence on phenomena such as sea level rise."

osadnick.jpgO'Sadnick's Fulbright plan represents the next stage of her natural evolution as a scholar. She says that an Introduction to Geology course "spurred a real passion within me and led me to focus my interests on the physical processes shaping our landscape." She adds, " My Physics major has provided me with a good base by exposing me to the finer physical processes occurring all around us. I have been able to familiarize myself with the mathematical and truly nitty-gritty side of science that I feel will be incredibly helpful in future as I pursue the earth and engineering sciences."

The Wheaton Balfour Scholar began to refine her focus on the arctic environment in 2007 when she spent the summer participating in the Juneau Icefield Project, measuring snow accumulation, collecting GPS data on glacial flow direction and velocity and studying supraglacial streams. That experience was funded in part by a NASA Space Grant for the University of Alaska Southeast Fellowship, an award to students who show promise in the sciences.

The following year, O'Sadnick worked in the lab, rather than the field, analyzing data at the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. The experience, which was supported by a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Grant, provided an introduction to the interdisciplinary nature of arctic environmental research and helped her "appreciate the importance of collaboration in research."

Those research internships will be vital to her work in Norway, according to glaciologist Jack Kohler, a research scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute, who supported O'Sadnick's Fulbright proposal.  "Megan's previous experiences … put her in an excellent position to assist our work, and provide valuable cross-fertilization with our goals for this project," Kohler wrote.

For her part, O'Sadnick expects to learn a lot as well. "I expect to gain a tremendous amount of knowledge, not only through my research but through interaction with the many scientists working at NPI whose research … necessitates familiarity with many other disciplines."

While the Evergreen, Colo. native works at NPI, she will live in Tromsø, Norway. "Many  of the people who live in the area are involved in arctic research. or are students at the University of Tromsø,creating, what sounds to be, an intellectually curious and active community that is rather international as well " she said. "I'm excited to experience a new culture and explore the beautiful surroundings.  While I am unfamiliar with the Norwegian language, I plan on learning at least the basics before arriving which will hopefully open up more opportunities to explore not only Tromsø but other parts of the country.

O'Sadnick is an active member of the Wheaton community. She serves as co-president of the Physics Club and as a peer mentor to first-year students. In addition, she has competed on the college's track and field and cross country teams.

Following her Fulbright year, O'Sadnick plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.