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Montana counts three influential scientists, including two at University of Montana

Montana counts three influential scientists, including two at University of Montana

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Mike Schwartz's work in science is where the rubber meets the road — in this case, where the DNA meets the iPad.

Schwartz, a federal researcher for the U.S. Forest Service's National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation, works with a team that harnesses the power of shared data to provide valuable information about, say, trends related to invasive species.

He is also among three Montanans recently named among the world's most influential scientific minds.

Last month, Clarivate Analytics released a list of the top 1 percent of scientists in the world for their field based on citations, and the three Montanans have University of Montana affiliations.

Schwartz, whose office is located on campus, is an adjunct and graduate adviser for the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation.

Steve Running is a retired professor and climate scientist who plans to return to the campus on a NASA grant this year. Running was a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared in the 2007 Nobel Prize.

Ragan "Ray" Callaway is a professor of ecology with a focus on the relationships of plants and natural communities.

Wednesday, Schwartz said the award represents more than journal citations. The federal agency places researchers like him on campuses like UM because they're "the lifeline of ideas" filled with creative energy.

"Ray, and people like Ray, are the reason we're located at the University of Montana," Schwartz said. "Having access to minds like that is outstanding.

"This award is nice, but it's more meaningful that it's really about the team of researchers here. It's really about being in a group of people, with a group of people, that are just idea factories."

Callaway, too, lauded the community of scientists with whom he works. He said people like to tout that specific award because it's a quantifiable metric, but it's just one narrow measure, and at UM, he's surrounded by researchers doing groundbreaking work.

Recently, he said, UM has been able to hire talented young faculty away from other institutions, and last fiscal year, the campus counted some $86 million brought in the door in research dollars.

"Research at the University of Montana has been skyrocketing," Callaway said.


The flagship is known as the liberal arts university in the state, but Chris Comer, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, said the sciences are a key part of UM's core offerings.

"When we say liberal arts, that's shorthand for liberal arts and sciences," Comer said.

The studies include logic, rhetoric and language, but also mathematics and sciences, he said: "Our excellence in the core is across the humanities and the various sciences, and that's the way we like that."

And UM is a place where arts and the sciences are coming together, said President Seth Bodnar. Recently, he participated in the Mansfield Center's Art of Diplomacy conference, where the agenda included a presentation called "Creative Brilliance: How the Arts interact with the Sciences."

Among the panelists was a professional ballerina who also had a doctorate in quantum physics. The presenters talked firsthand about how the arts were a complement to their work in science, and Bodnar said the recent rankings demonstrate the caliber of UM faculty in their fields.

"Our strength in the sciences is an integral part of the unique UM education that prepares students incredibly well for the world they’re entering," Bodnar said.

Scott Whittenburg, vice president of research and creative scholarship, said some rankings evaluate factors such as number of degrees produced. But citations are the primary metric for the impact of a faculty member's research, and he said when citations are evaluated, UM routinely ranks in the top 3 percent of universities worldwide.

"The publications they (Running and Callaway) produce are seminal in their field and commonly cited," Whittenburg said.


In the past, scientists would go from data collection to publication and be done, but the field has changed, said Schwartz, director of the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation.

"At least in the type of job that this is, that's no longer acceptable," Schwartz said. "You need to go the next step and help people understand the data and implement the results."

For instance, his team is pulling together individual pieces of data collected by different groups about invasive species so scientists can identify patterns, he said. It's also taking the information to the next level by making it available to the public. The idea is that a land use planner standing on a specific property can search an iPad and quickly answer critical natural resource questions about it.

"My favorite thing about this job is listening to our managers, listening to our partners, and trying to understand the research that they're going to need five years before anyone realizes we need it," Schwartz said. " ... Research is slow. If we can start coming up with that research process and coming up with solutions before people even identify the problems, then we're succeeding in our jobs."

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