This summer, graduate students from throughout the globe had the opportunity to come together to learn from some of the leading experts within the field of stable isotopes at IsoCamp. This internationally renowned two-week short course is dedicated to providing hands-on training in the application of stable isotopes to the biological, anthropological, and geological sciences.

Students in CSI Lab
Students working in CSI’s lab in PAÍS.

The course is executed by the Center for Stable Isotopes, which is one of the largest stable isotope facilities in the country. Launched at the University of Utah in 1996, IsoCamp made its new home at UNM in 2021 when the course’s organizers, Jim Ehleringer and Thure Cerling, saw the opportunity for this special program to thrive under CSI’s leadership – and New Mexico’s diverse ecological landscape.

This year’s course welcomed another 52 scientists to their alumni community, which is made up over 1,000 individuals throughout the world. Of the 50 students who attended this year, 15 countries, and 40 universities were represented.

One of these students was Axumawit (Axum) Tesfamariam from the University of Oulu in Finland. Tesfamariam is an engineering Ph.D. candidate who is focusing her studies on wastewater, stormwater, and groundwater interactions. She found the diverse community of researchers she was exposed to over the course of the two weeks to be highly beneficial to her own research.

Axumawit (Axum) Tesfamariam works with her group on their final project.

“I learned a lot the past two weeks. It’s way outside of my scope of study but…it’s a wealth of knowledge and it’s nice to learn from people in different fields. Every day it’s a learning experience,” Tesfamariam said.

Abby Yancey, a Ph.D. candidate in geology and environmental science at the University of Pittsburgh also attended IsoCamp this year. The lab she works in specializes in sourcing nitrogen so she came with some background experience in utilizing isotopes. However, it has been an eye-opening experience getting to learn in CSI’s lab in the Physics & Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science (PAÍS) building.

“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really cool people and tap into the knowledge of so many experts in this field and make new connections. The facilities here are incredible. It’s been really cool seeing all of the equipment,” Yancey said.

IsoCamp welcomed 24 instructors this year representing 16 universities and industry, including Cambridge University, University of California at Berkeley, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Cornell University.

One of these instructors was Jordan Wostbrock, who is an assistant professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences at Yale University. Jordan is a double alumna of UNM, who received her Master’s in 2016 and her Ph.D. in 2020 from the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences. She has served as an instructor for IsoCamp since it came to UNM in 2021 and she says the experience is one she looks forward to each year.

“The students are super psyched and they’re like sponges. You come in and the students are really excited to learn about isotopes and it just really revitalizes the end-of-the-year slump,” she says.

Abby Yancy
Abby Yancy, right, is a Ph.D. candidate in geology and environmental science.

The environment naturally fosters learning from one another, an experience that Wostbrock finds especially invigorating, “You can have a geologist and a plant biologist in the same room and you really start to see how interdisciplinary IsoCamp is. Not all of the students are completely immersed in the isotope community so you learn about what they’re immersed in through their focus areas.”

A major component of IsoCamp is its focus on community-building. Throughout this immersive experience, students not only attend classes together but also spend a significant amount of time outside of class getting to know one another through their group project work as well as activities like picnics, dinners, and even an Isotopes game. The community that is built at IsoCamp is truly one that attendees will rely on throughout their careers.

“I plan on bringing my students here. I think it’s a great networking opportunity and every year at least one – or more than one – students contact me for more information once IsoCamp is over,” said Wostbrock. “Just bringing students here, even if they don’t develop relationships with the instructors, the relationships built between the students are important – that’s their colleagues forever.”

ISO Group
2023 IsoCamp students and faculty.