Big Man on Campus heads north to NAU in Flagstaff

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

To most folks from the Valley, Flagstaff is a nice cool getaway during the summer. However, when the Big Man on Campus looked into NAU, he found some amazing things happening on campus that are getting worldwide attention.

To start, let's refresh your memory to 2001, shortly after September 11th. Letters were sent to different media outlets and several lawmakers containing Anthrax. Five people were killed and seventeen others infected. The FBI made a call to a tiny science lab at NAU in Flagstaff.

"The FBI came to us and said 'we have this outbreak of anthrax associated with these letters. Can we figure out where they came from?' explains Dr. Paul Keim, NAU Regents Professor of Biology.

What helped in their investigation was the FBI subpoena all the Anthrax throughout the United States from all the different laboratories. Keim and his lab crew pulled an all niter sequencing DNA, looking at the genetic code, building an ancestry model and comparing the Anthrax samples with what was found in the letters. They cracked the case.

According to Keim, "It was startling; chilling, and we knew this was a bio terrorism event."

That led to his nickname of "Dr. Anthrax." Since he's continued his career as a disease detective, passing his knowledge to students and helping them get the information they need to become successful scientists themselves.

"So the students who come to NAU get a chance to work in an internationally renowned laboratory with some of the best scientists in the world. When they leave, they carry that with them."

However, NAU is also recognized across the world for its Forestry program, specializing in forest health. NAU Professor Wally Covington has been at the university long enough implementing changes to the law regarding forest thinning made after the massive Rodeo-Chedeski Fire where 468,000 acres burned.

"The problem people have with thinning is the fear that an agricultural approach to forestry would reassert itself, rather than a more natural ecological management. However not only does it prevent the over population of trees, it also helps to release the nutrients that would otherwise remain locked up" says Covington.

And that's the focus when they take their students out to the World's Largest Ponderosa Pine classroom.  

Cheryl Miller, Forest Manager for Centennial Forest explains, "We have over 47,000 acres that we use for research and education." And our field campus is 120 acres of that, that we have built ramadas and tents, open air showers, restrooms, nature trails, things like that and we use this field campus to engage the community and our students."

All this helps put NAU above others universities, not just in elevation but in recognizable programs. 

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