News & Events

UMPI announces second Zillman Family Professor

The University of Maine at Presque Isle is pleased to announce the recipient of the Donald and Linda G. Zillman Family Professorship for 2015-2017: David Putnam, archaeologist/climate scientist and University of Maine at Presque Isle faculty member.

Putnam is using the professorship funds to conduct a wide range of research, including a joint climate change-focused research expedition to Mongolia and related publication work in 2015-2016, as well as research connected with documenting wood turtle populations, glacial geology, and archaeology survey in the North Maine Woods in 2016-2017.

“We are delighted to have Dave Putnam serve as the second-ever recipient of the Zillman Family Professorship,” UMPI President Linda Schott said. “He is a dedicated scientist who is able to focus his attention on a wide range of research topics and the professorship will allow him to continue the important work he’s been doing both close to home in northern Maine and halfway around the world.”

The professorship—established in 2013 by former UMPI President Don Zillman and his wife Linda Zillman—is awarded every two years to a UMPI faculty member to assist in research and faculty development. Established with proceeds from a designated fund at the Maine Community Foundation, this is the University’s first rotating professorship. This is only the second time the Zillman Family Professorship has been awarded. Dr. Chunzeng Wang, UMPI Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, was the first recipient of the Zillman Professorship.

“Linda and I are delighted with the wonderful work that Chunzeng and Dave have done with the Zillman Family Professorship,” Don Zillman said. “They exemplify the marvelous faculty commitment at UMPI to teaching, student mentorship, internationally visible academic scholarship, and service to the County and the State of Maine. We are so delighted with their willingness to share the Professorship with their students to give them life-changing academic opportunities.”

So far, the professorship has supported Putnam’s participation in a 60-day glacial geology research trip with a team hailing from Maine, New York, Illinois and Scotland. Funds from the professorship also allowed Putnam to bring UMPI student Caleb Ward, a senior majoring in Environmental Science and Sustainability, to Mongolia to assist in the research efforts. Other team members included Dr. Aaron Putnam, (Putnam’s son) then of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and now Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences at the University of Maine; UMaine Ph.D. student Peter Strand; Sarah Kramer, a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University in Illinois; and Hayley Wolcott, a biology student at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

In Mongolia, the team joined researchers from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology [MUST]. Putnam and Dr. Aaron Putnam had the opportunity to deliver presentations at MUST before striking out for the Khoton Lakes area of the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in the Altai Mountains, which is on the borders of China and Russia. Their road traversed the Gobi Desert, where they experienced—and almost lost a vehicle to—flash flooding.

The group’s work on this research trip involved three inter-related projects: first, to collect samples from glacially deposited boulders so scientists can construct a chronology of glacial retreat in the area over the past 50,000 years; second, to collect specimens of two species of fish—Mongolian grayling and Osman—and study how they came to be present in the Great Lakes Basin of western Mongolia, which is closed and surrounded by high mountains and vast deserts; and third, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institute, to conduct experimental research on the feasibility of using desert varnish microstratigraphy (a low-impact method) to date the iconic prehistoric petroglyphs covering the rock faces and boulders in the Khoton Lakes valley. By trip’s end, the team traveled approximately 2,900 miles.

Work on this research continues this spring. Ward is preparing a poster about the Mongolia efforts for the Geological Society of America Northeastern meeting in Albany in March. Putnam and Dr. Putnam, along with a list of authors, succeeded in having a paper titled Little Ice Age Wetting of Interior Asian Deserts and the Rise of the Mongol Empire published in Quarternary Science Reviews. The paper reports the results of research conducted in 2010 and 2011 in the Tarim Basin, Taklamakan and Lop Deserts of northwest China and the probable role that a cooling climate played in facilitating the expansion of Mongolian steppe herders through the arid regions south of the Eurasian steppe.

Along with the Mongolia research expedition, Zillman Professorship funds also supported a one-day field trip of 25 Environmental Science and Sustainability and Biology students and faculty to the Deboullie Lakes Ecological Reserve in October 2015. UMPI science faculty members Dr. Judith Roe, Dr. Larry Feinstein, Dr. Chunzeng Wang, and Putnam introduced students and colleagues to their particular research in the reserve, land that was set aside by the state for just that purpose.

For the 2016-2017 research year, tentative plans are underway for a return to Mongolia in the summer of 2016 involving another UMPI Environmental Science and Sustainability student, Nate Norris. Additionally, Zillman Professorship funding will help support UMPI Environmental Science and Sustainability student, Gannon Pratt, on collaborative field research involving wood turtle populations in northern Maine with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. This project will include radio-tracking of tagged turtles using equipment purchased with funds from the voter approved “STEM bond,” which provided the University with $1.2 million to update research and teaching labs and purchase new research equipment.

“I was honored to receive the Zillman Professorship and ecstatic that it would support UMPI student participation in cutting edge field research in far flung regions of our planet,” Putnam said. “The students may or may not pursue this as a career, but it provides a global education beyond compare. One can’t truly learn about the world from a classroom, it must be experienced.”