UA Statewide Briefs

Alaska Day brings guests

Join us on Oct. 18 for two very special Alaska Day events!

Alaska 2058: The Next 50 Years. A panel of experts in various subjects will engage in a conversation about the future of our state. Based in Anchorage at the UAA campus, the panel discussion will be videoconferenced to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Southeast where audiences will be allowed to ask questions and discuss their own visions for the next 50 years. Panelists include ASD Superintendent Carol Comeau, APRN reporter Steve Heimel, UAF Interim Chancellor Brian Rogers, Dr. Sven Haakanson Jr. and more. Join in the discussion on Oct. 18 from 2-5 p.m. at: UAA — Rasmuson Hall 117; UAF — Butrovich 109; and UAS — Egan Lecture Hall 112. This event is free and open to the public.

The UAA Polaris Lecture series presents its annual Alaska Day lecture featuring special guests Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, and a performance by the Alaska Native Heritage Center Dancers. This event is particularly significant during this year of statehood celebrations. Sen. Stevens and Sen. Inouye will recount their roles in the struggle for statehood and the road thereafter for the last two states to enter the Union, both in 1959. Join us Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Wendy Williamson Theatre on the UAA campus. This event is free and open to the public.

Scholarship honors conservationist

A $50,000 gift to the University of Alaska Fairbanks from the Pacific Walrus Conservation Fund has created the Matthew Iya Memorial Scholarship Fund.

The new scholarship offers financial assistance to UAF students studying or involved in activities related to the Pacific walrus.

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Iya was an Alaska Native leader and hunter who was born at a campsite near Savoonga in 1948. He grew up living and learning a subsistence lifestyle and, later in life, his traditional knowledge and efforts to bring people together became a valuable addition to walrus conservation efforts.

Iya recognized that the most effective walrus management would require subsistence users and agencies to collaborate. To that end, he helped establish the Eskimo Walrus Commission in the late 1970s.

“Matthew’s unwavering stand for subsistence rights and his fight for co-management were the basis of every walrus commission meeting,” said the late Jonah Tokeianna of Wales in a 1994 statement during a plaque dedication ceremony in Nome in Iya’s honor.

UAF alumna Gay Sheffield, a marine mammal biologist with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the new scholarship complements one honoring walrus researcher Francis “Bud” Fay.

“It was obvious that both men enjoyed a great understanding of, and a love for, Alaska’s unique marine resources and the people who lives are entwined with them,” Sheffield said. “Bud Fay is recognized for his dedication to scientific research and it seems right that Matthew finally be recognized for his dedication to the subsistence lifestyle and cooperation between all peoples for the benefit of the Pacific walrus population.”

The Pacific Walrus Conservation Fund is a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation partnership with the Eskimo Walrus Commission, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The partnership works to benefit Pacific walrus conservation efforts through funding and fundraising opportunities.

“I hope the students follow in Matthew’s footsteps and continue to protect the land, the sea and the air–because that is our survival,” emphasizes Veronica Iya, Matthew’s widow. “He embraced people and saw the beauty in people.”

CONTACT: Naomi Horne, development officer, at 907-474-6464 or via e-mail at [email protected]


Northern lab featured studies of the cold “Rectal Temperature of the Working Sled Dog.”

“Cleaning and Sterilization of Bunny Boots.”

“Comparative Sweat Rates of Eskimos and Caucasians Under Controlled Conditions.”

These are some of the studies completed by scientists who worked for the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory from the late 1940s through the 1960s. Developed during the Cold War to “solve the severe environmental problems of men living and working in the Arctic,” the lab cranked out dozens of quirky, and sometimes controversial, publications in its two decades of existence.

Based at Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks, which later became Fort Wainwright, the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory was a group of about 60 military and civilian researchers charged with finding the best way to wage warfare in the cold. At the time, U.S. political and military leaders feared a nuclear war with the Soviet Union and thought that Alaska was a likely battleground.

Studies from the Air Force lab in Fairbanks included cold-weather gear development (as in Technical Report 59-4, “Walk-Around Sleeping Bag,”); the body structure and function of bears, ground squirrels, and other animals that hibernate; and comparison studies of different races of people, to see if Eskimos, for example, were better adapted to the cold than non-Native soldiers.

Many people later criticized one of those studies, on the role of the thyroid gland in acclimation to the cold, because researchers in 1956 and 1957 gave capsules of iodine 131, a radioactive material used to trace thyroid activity, to 102 Alaska Natives from five northern villages and 19 military volunteers. In the 1990s, the National Research Council investigated and found ethical problems with the study but decided that the damage done by the capsules was probably “negligible,” and that the scientists “held a genuine belief, justified at the time, that their research was both harmless and important.”

Less publicized was the lab’s “simulated survival trek” from Anaktuvuk Pass to the Arctic Ocean by an Air Force captain and staff sergeant in July 1962. The men were given an aircraft survival kit and instructed to hike and float their way to the Beaufort Sea. Their objective was to “provide field experience in this area and to determine the merits and deficiencies of the F-102 Aircraft Survival Kit.”

One deficiency was the lack of raingear, which forced the men to drape their small life rafts over their heads to stay dry, “with only partial success . . . Both ‘survivors’ were shivering uncontrollably and had to call on considerable will power to make camp,” they wrote. Upon completion of their trip, with the help of an “observer” who traveled next to them in the Colville on a larger raft, the men recommended that future version of the survival kit include both lightweight rain gear and salt, which they craved after shooting ground squirrels and netting whitefish.

Shivering volunteers must have been a common site at the Fairbanks lab, where researchers quantified how different areas of the body generate and lose different amounts of heat. In one experiment, scientists found that no matter how thick the insulation covering the body core, a person’s hands and feet will always get cold if uncovered. To combat these weak points, the lab developed heated bunny boots and gloves powered by a seven-pound battery vest that would allow a person to remain somewhat comfortable while being inactive at 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The mental well being of the northern soldier was also a favorite study topic. In one lab report, published in 1950, an Air Force major wrote about differences between infantrymen who came to Alaska from either the southern or northern U.S.

“It was found that the men from the South are significantly more depressed than those from the North, although the latter group expresses disposition changes indicative of increased frustration,” he wrote. “Both groups are similar in experiencing increased tension, lack of sociability, insomnia, and feeling of increased aggression.”

This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer at the institute. “Northern lab featured studies of the cold and quirky,” first ran in 2004.