History: The Chihuahuan Desert, which may be the least studied North American desert but with possibly the highest biodiversity of any desert, has few areas with unrestricted access to locations for field research and education. Indio Mountains Research Station (IMRS) is a 40,000 acre research and educational facility operated by the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The station is located in the Chihuahuan Desert of west Texas, adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border. Examples of current research activities at IMRS include rattlesnake and lizard ecology, arthropod ecology in ephemeral pools, systematics of scorpions, spiders and centipedes and structural geology studies of the Chihuahuan Desert. A new laboratory dedicated to wireless communication, computer technology, and laboratory operations would increase the value of this station. The remote locality of IMRS makes this technology vital for current operations and future research initiatives. Usage of IMRS has increased during the last five years, primarily because of NSF-funded improvements, but a modern center to house essential items for technological and logistic support is needed.

Project plan: This award to University of Texas-El Paso is to build a laboratory and technology building with clean space dedicated to computer resources, including wireless access to remote stations on IMRS, to the UTEP campus, and the internet. It will also contain space for laboratory activities associated with field studies and a wet lab. The present electrical and water systems will also be expanded to sustain the additional infrastructure.

UTEP, with IMRS as its major field investigation facility, is a foremost educator of underrepresented Hispanic students in science and technology. Enrollment at UTEP is about 21,000 and includes over 72% Hispanic students, with a majority of these students female. UTEP also educates most of the K-12 teachers in the El Paso area (schools are close to 80% Hispanic). Thus, students, teachers and future teachers involved in IMRS activities will have a significant impact on the scientific competence of K-12 students and should increase interest of minority students in science and scientific disciplines. In addition, future partnering with long term observatory network groups will advance the value of IMRS as a field site.

Project Report

Indio Mountains Research Station (IMRS), operated by The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), is a 40,000 acre venue located near Mexican border in the Chihuahuan Desert of west Texas. IMRS has become popular with people attracted to Chihuahuan Desert ecosystems, particularly field trips from biology and geology and secondary school teachers being trained in field-based sciences. Popularity increase, based on more visitors, is due primarily to three NSF Field Station Marine Labs awards for improving an underdeveloped site featuring a single building with few amenities (basically a camping facility), to a self-contained multiple structured complex able to effectively support larger field trips. As an example of visitor increase, in 2000 before NSF funding 208 people used IMRS, while in 2011, the number increased to 404. During those three awards, 15 September 2001 through 31 August 2012, IMRS constructed dormitories with connecting bath rooms, a multipurpose building with connected kitchen, and a lab building with spaces for computer stations, study collections, and a library housing Chihuahuan Desert literature. All three buildings are attached to upgraded solar powered electrical and water systems also funded by the NSF awards. Construction of new lab reported on here, which was funded for $106,651, is the focus of last NSF award lasting from 15 September 2009 through 31 August 2012, Before new lab was built, activities were confined to the original 30 year old ranch house, which was inadequate for both research requiring clean settings and space needed for classroom procedures. The foremost implication of new lab is providing increased space for research and educational initiatives by university faculty and students, and teachers from secondary schools. IMRS is becoming a major asset for investigating Chihuahuan Desert natural history, and is one of the few places in the region with unrestricted access, for qualified persons, to a facility committed to supporting studies in mostly pristine environments. Access is particularly important in Texas where most property is private, while public lands are typically located in national or state parks where access can be affected by restrictive permitting policies. Intellectual merit. Because this NSF award was for a new lab building, intellectual merit is linked primarily to improving research and educational opportunities that the building supports. During the grant period, 1,080 visits to IMRS were recorded, an increase of 326 visitors from the same time period from 2006 through 2009. Reason for this gain, based on user comments, is due to NSF funded infrastructure that has increased usability and comfort levels of the headquarters complex, including the new lab. During the period of reported NSF award, visitors included the following UTEP personnel: Multiple visits by six faculty members from Biology, four from Geology, and one each from Physics and Civil Engineering. 13 graduate students used IMRS as a field site for their projects, nine from Biology (3 PhDs), two MS students from Environmental Sciences, and two MS students from Geology (8 graduated). 10 scientific papers (3 more in press) were published by Biology and Environmental Sciences personnel, with students being coauthors on all, and 18 presentations at scientific meetings (14 biology and 4 from geology). Most research at IMRS to date was associated with graduate studies, although several faculty members collaborated with students on other projects. Most non-UTEP personnel using IMRS came from 10 universities, one community college, eight secondary schools, and two state museums. Educational activities were mainly related to academic field trips, which included from eight to 30 students, and from five field-oriented programs supported by NSF, including Research Experience for Teachers (RET), Grad Teaching Fellows in K-12 (GK-12), Undergraduate Research and Mentoring (URM), Student Mentoring to Achieve Retention: Triads in Science (SMARTS), and Robert Noyce Scholarships for Teachers. Field trips involved almost one-half of the 1,080 total recorded visitors during the grant period. Broader Impacts. The new laboratory building will positively impact IMRS’s ability to better serve researchers and educators and help attract more interest in bringing field trips to the Station. This is apparent by increased use by both researchers and educators during the l2 years since IMRS improvements began (208 users in 2000, 404 in 2011). The main impact has an ethical component because UTEP enrolls over 72% Hispanic students, who are sorely underrepresented in science vocations, and also trains the majority of science teachers in the El Paso region (over 800,000 area residents) whose students are close to 80% Hispanic. We will continue to serve people who desire to use IMRS for research and educational purposes and are proud of our record of being a national leader in educating Hispanic students, and teachers of Hispanic students, in order to give them opportunities to become a more representative group in our country sharing in science vocations.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Peter H. McCartney
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University of Texas at El Paso
United States
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