With the help of virtual reality technology, University of Maine paleoecologist Jacquelyn Gill aims to use the valuable field data collected by her research team for the creation of a unique and powerful tool for educators and their students to become ice age forensic scientists in their school classrooms.
“I want to make the invisible world visible. They will see mammoths walking across the landscape, knocking down trees, pooping, eating plants and other things they would have done, which will inspire more rural, low-income kids to become scientists.” Jacquelyn Gill
Gill, an assistant professor of paleoecology and plant ecology, has been awarded a nearly $800,000, five-year National Science Foundation CAREER Award to fund her research project. She and her team of student researchers will travel to various locations in Russia and Alaska to obtain sediment core samples from Wrangel Island — the last known location of woolly mammoths on Earth.
“We’re especially interested in how the environment was changing when the ice age megafauna went extinct. Did climate play a role? Or did the extinction cause surviving ecosystems to be more sensitive to climate change?” Gill says.
The project will provide multiple opportunities for students, local teachers and researchers to collaborate in the field and lab. The results will benefit the education, mentoring and training of students as they incorporate data and technology research into a student-designed ice age virtual reality game.