UL Lafayette Geosciences Team named Top Oil Prospectors

Recently, a group of geosciences students from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette competed in the 2023 North American Region Competition, where they were named the best team of students in North America who can determine where to drill for oil, according to this feature article from the University.

UL Lafayette’s team of competing geosciences students included Savana Anderson, Peyton Dardeau, Margaret Dittman and Abigail Watson, also known collectively as the University’s Imperial Barrel team. The team’s faculty advisor was Dr. David Oppo, an assistant professor in the School of Geosciences. This four-student team, which consisted of both undergraduate and graduate students,  placed first for the Imperial Barrel Award for the 2023 North American Region Competition, which is a competition for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Dr. Carl Richter, Associated Dean of Ray P. Authement College of Sciences and Professor at the School of Geosciences, spoke about the team saying, “this doesn’t place the School’s teams in exclusive company. It’s more like a private club. Over the years, the teams achieved a level of preeminence that’s not likely to be equaled anytime soon. It reflects the quality of students the School of Geosciences attracts and the strength of our graduate program.”

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ competition functions as a competitive showcase for students to collaborate as they analyze industry data, make key determinations about energy resources, and make vital decisions about sustainable extraction methods. Because the University’s Imperial Barrel team won the North American Region competition after winning the Gulf Coast sectional, they will be coming on to the world competition.

Last year, the ULL’s Imperial Barrel team placed second in the world and have won the overall event three times in the past: in 2012, 2014, and 2018. It should be noted that they are the only team to claim the title of “world’s best” three times in the history of the award.

The competition involved the students analyzing real datasets including information on basin’s geology, petroleum system elements, geophysics, and production infrastructures over the course of eight weeks. Throughout the competition, the four team members used state-of-the-art technology, received feedback from industry advisors, and networked with potential employers. The competition’s main goal includes identifying a prospective oil reservoir and determining its overall viability. The team then reports its verdict during a 25 minute presentation to industry experts, who then select a winner based on technical quality, clarity, and the originality of the presentation.

Joey Grimball was a previous winner for UL Lafayette during the 2012 competition, and he had the following to say about his involvement in the competition and the impact it has had on his career: “the IBA experience has been the culmination of my coursework at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. By using the knowledge we attained from previous courses we as a team were able to put together a prospect evaluation starting at the Basin analysis level with the understanding of regional geology, paleogeography, maturation of the source rocks, trapping mechanisms, reservoirs and seals in our area.

These past three months we have grown as individuals and gained insight into how real world petroleum prospectsare put together. Through our interaction with Industry professionals and advice given to us through our Advisor we have a better understanding of how Industry operates. Also the presentation skills along with the networking that we have been able to do through this process have added up to be the best experience of my academic career. I hope to be a part of the IBA experience for years to come.”

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UL Lafayette To Start Only Smart Oilfield Concentration in Nation

This upcoming fall semester, students enrolled in the College of Engineering at  The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will be able to pursue the only Smart Oilfield concentration in the nation. The announcement of this ground-breaking concentration is according to a news release from the school, where courses are set to begin this fall for the new concentration.

Specifically, the Smart Oilfield concentration is a pathway from ULL’s College of Engineering that is designed for petroleum engineering majors who are preparing for a career in the oil and gas industry, one that involves an increasing reliance on ever-evolving technology for efficient, safe, and environmentally-sound and stable exploration and production.

According to the Dean of the University’s College of Engineering, Dr. Ahmed Khattab, the new Smart Oilfield concentration is the only program of its kind in the entirety of the United States of America. Dr. Khattab commented on the necessity of establishing such a concentration by saying, “its addition is part of our comprehensive plan to address conventional and renewable energy by providing cutting-edge degree programs, minors, and concentrations that augment our traditional energy base and meet industry and community needs.”

According to Dr. Khattab, the new concentration will be able to integrate the College of Engineering’s current petroleum engineering degree program’s sub-surface expertise with data analytics, machine learning, and smart drilling. The concentration will also reportedly feature a combined blend of both traditional courses and interactive labs that will focus on automation, carbon capture, coding, computational fluid dynamics, machine learning, predictive capabilities, smart drilling, statistics, and the economic feasibility of exploration in specific locations.

According to Dr. Rafael Hernandez, the Interim Department Head of the Department of Petroleum Engineering, the curriculum for the Smart Oilfield concentration was developed based on extensive, data-driven research. The concentration was created in conjunction with input from professionals who work in the oil and gas industry, an entire field that has, according to Dr. Hernandez, “undergone a significant transformation in recent years.”

Dr. Hernandez continued to underline the necessity of evolving their program by continuing to outline the Oil and Gas industry by saying, “it now relies on a system of sensors, networks, and integrated operations that generate and communicate field and data analyses to ensure more environmentally friendly, safe and cost-efficient oil exploration, production and management.”

Outside of the new Smart Oilfield concentration, ULL’s College of Engineering has added eight other concentrations in the last two years in order to address recent trends in the industry and needs in fields that have been growing faster than the national average. For instance, employment opportunities for petroleum engineers are projected to increase by 8% through 2029, and employment opportunities for engineers are projected to increase 6% through 2029, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to Dr. Khattab, the total 9 concentrations that have been added by the College of Engineering have been added for a variety of well-informed reasons. Dr. Khattab said, “These are strategic additions implemented to ensure we continually give our graduates the knowledge and skills they will need for the jobs they want, and that will position them to thrive and advance in their careers.

Besides the Smart Oilfield concentration, the other 8 new concentrations are: autonomous and robotic systems; bioengineering; computer engineering; engineering management; power and sustainable energy; secure smart systems; sustainable energy systems; and water resources and environmental engineering.

According to the Department of Petroleum Engineering, the above new concentrations are made all-the-more valuable as the “UL Lafayette Petroleum Engineering (PETE) program ranks among the top in the nation and is recognized across the globe. It is the only academic program in the U.S. providing education and training for students to demonstrate compliance with the International Association of Drilling Contractors’ Well Sharp Certification, an industry-standard credential that ensures knowledge of cost and efficiency optimization and risk minimization during drilling operations.”

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UL Lafayette Announced Project to Increase Oyster Resilience

It was recently announced that The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will be spearheading a $14 million research initiative over a three year period to develop a resilient oyster broodstock that will have the ability to live in environments with low salinity, according to a press release from the university and an article from The Acadiana Advocate. The project to create oyster resilience, which is being funded by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is called LO-SPAT or “Leveraging Opportunities and Strategic Partnerships to Advance Tolerant Oysters for Restoration. It’s designed to help sustain populations of shellfish and at the same time support the seafood industry.

The project’s principal investigator Dr. Beth Stauffe, commented on the project’s objective by saying, “the objective is to examine low-salinity tolerant populations of oysters. We’re researching how low salinity – and other environmental stressors – factor in, and identifying heritable traits that make some oysters hardier than others.”

Outside of being LO-SPAT’s principal investigator, Dr. Stauffe is an associate professor in the Department of Biologyat UL Lafayette as well as a phytoplankton ecologist. Alongside Dr. Stauffe, the project will be worked on by other researchers from UL Lafayette, scientists from the LSU Agricultural Center, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The project’s partner from the private sector is the Mississippi-based oyster aquaculture company Spat-Tech.

One of the principal efforts the project team focused on was the collective examination of the entire oyster life cycle– from larvae to broodstock to juveniles- at which point they can be deployed into nurseries and restored reef sites. In order to observe the entire life cycle, the team of researchers must both pool together its multiple sources of expertise in oyster husbandry, molecular biology, coastal ecology, restoration ecology, environmental monitoring, economics, and organismal biology.

The process to begin the creation of better oyster resilience and sustainable breeding operations for the oysters starts with the collecting of wild oysters, introducing them to what’s known as stressors, and using molecular tools to determine which oysters prove capable in unfavorable conditions. The resilient oysters that will emerge from this project will be incredibly impactful due to the fact that Louisiana is one of the nation’s major oyster-producing states.

Despite their popularity, the recent years haven’t been kind to the Louisiana shellfish, as production has declined due to the increases seen in rainfall and flooding in the state and along the Gulf Coast in recent years. This has created massive ecological and economic consequences because the increase in rainwater has introduced high amounts of freshwater into reefs and oyster habitats, which is disrupting the amount of salt that they need to survive, grow, and reproduce, therefore decreasing our oyster resilience.

The secretary of the LO-SPAT project’s funding partner, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is Jack Montoucet. Montoucet commented on the impact of the project by saying, “A comprehensive approach to addressing a state, regional and national problem, and we’re excited to play a role in that. Developing an oyster that can tolerate low salinity for an extended period of time – which we don’t have now – is important to maintaining the industry as we know it. And with all of the research capabilities that exist today, we should be able to do that.

In order for a coastal ecosystem to be considered healthy, a resilient supply of oysters are absolutely essential, as they both build reefs that provide a habitat for fish and other marine life and filter massive volumes of water. The Gulf of Mexico produces approximately 46% of the United States’s oysters with the regional oyster industry producing an annual value of $66 million. Therefore, LO-SPAT and other similar initiatives are ever-more vital to a healthy economy and sealife.

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International Delegates Visit UL Lafayette for Research and Development Opportunities

When the Acadiana area presented itself to international business representatives as a part of the Americas Competitiveness Exchange, research and development from various disciplines at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette was front and center, according to this news release from the school.

Senior officials across the Western Hemisphere and other nations toured Louisiana between March 26- April 1 as the state hosted the 14th Americas Competitiveness Exchange (ACE), an event that brings together over 60 global leaders who represent 21 countries and multiple international organizations in order to share best practices for economic development and to explore partnership opportunities.

According to Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, UL Lafayette’s vice president for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development, this visit of over 75 economic development, industry, and political leaders to the ULL campus was a vital part of the Americas Competitiveness Exchange. The visit served as an opportunity for the ACE Program to forge business relationships and explore trade investment opportunities in Louisiana.

Dr. Kolluru said of the visit, “delegates will see firsthand and hear from our faculty about the high-quality public impact research that is conducted at our Carnegie Research 1 University. Being able to engage with this group is a wonderful opportunity to grow research partnerships within the Western Hemisphere. The University prides itself in conducting research that is both locally relevant and globally prominent.” Dr. Koluru noted that this historic visit would ideally signify the start of “conversations between potential partners, including partners who might invest in Louisiana or who might partner with UL in their native countries. At least one deal involving informatics seemed possible.”

At the ACE delegates’ visit to the UL Lafayette’s Student Union Ballroom, university faculty presented research from various disciplines campus-wide, with each related to the topics of climate change; computing and security; energy and sustainability; human, community, and economic development; and life sciences.

When Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced the historic visit to the school in his March press release, he called the opportunity of hosting the Americas Competitiveness Exchange both “an extraordinary honor and a unique opportunity for Louisiana business owners, entrepreneurs, innovators, and policymakers.”

Governor Edwards attributed the ACE Coordinating Committee’s decision to tour Louisiana for its 14th visit to “Louisiana’s diverse culture and economy command the attention of decision-makers from around the world seeking to learn from our example. And it raises awareness about the natural resources, infrastructure advantages, and business climate that have made Louisiana a national leader in per capita foreign direct investment for the past 10 years.”

Standing as one of the core initiatives of the Inter-American Competitiveness Network (RIAC), the ACE program is organized in partnership with the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA), a bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce, the International Trade Administration, and the U.S. Department of State.

Across their tour of Louisiana, the ACE delegation explored over 30 sites in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the greater Acadiana region, focusing on areas of bioscience, entrepreneurship, film production, healthcare, manufacturing, and tourism. The delegation visited with EDA grantees, which included the Claiborne Corridor Cultural Innovation District, GNO, Inc, New Orleans BioInnovation Center, The Water Institute, and the World War II Museum, as well as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The visit to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette offered delegates an opportunity to take an inside look at research and various higher education workforce partnerships that support economic development. Additionally, when ACE delegates visited the area, they toured LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge in order to see the school’s labs in which innovative research into chronic disease triggers and treatment are actively creating hope for those suffering from obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia.

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ULL Scientists Research Environmental Impacts of Hurricanes

A partnership of two researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is working within an international team of scientists to study the ecological impacts of previous hurricanes to inform how coastal ecosystems may best prepare for and respond to future storms, according to a news release from the University.

The international research team of scientists has recently published their study, “A General Pattern of Trade-Offs Between Ecosystem Resistance and Resilience to Tropical Cyclones,” in Science Advances, an academic journal that is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The researchers’ findings in the study have reportedly provided insight into how our coastal ecosystems might respond to future storms, to which as anyone in the Gulf Coast region can attest, are always around the corner.

The study was co-authored by UL Lafayette’s Dr. Beth Stauffer, an associate professor of Biology, and Dr. Kelly Robinson, an assistant professor of Biology. Dr. Christopher Patrick of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science led the research team for the study, whose whole team was made up of 23 scientists from 11 states, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico. The team’s study is a part of the National Science Foundation’s Hurricane Ecosystem Response Synthesis (HERS), and Dr. Stauffer is a co-principal investigator for the research coordination network.

This collaborative research coordination network aims to bring together research on how an ecosystem’s long-term or more recent environmental history might influence its response to subsequent storms. In addition to this, the network will also collaborate on researching how species traits such as reproductive potential, dispersal mode and distance, and physiological tolerance might explain certain patterns of resistance and resilience.

In their research, the team used both pre-storm monitoring surveys and post-storm monitoring surveys to examine the resilience and resistance of coastal ecosystems across 26 different storms. The 26 total storms used for the research team’s data were selected among those that had made landfall in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth between the years 1985 and 2018. The researchers set out to study the effects of such a wide array of storms in order to maximize the scope of their data.

When speaking on the widening of the research’s scope in the study, UL Lafayette’s Dr. Beth Stauffer said, “most hurricane-related research is done on a single-storm, single-system basis. So studies like this one are especially powerful in bringing together the results from that diverse research and finding more general rules for how ecosystems respond to hurricanes.”

In working on their study, researchers were able to document post-storm changes related to the distribution and abundance of living things such as oysters, fishes, mangrove plants, and microbes. Outside of these living things, researchers also documented the observed changes made to various ecosystems’ biochemistry such as salinity levels, nitrogen levels, and hydrography such as depth and shoreline position.

Additionally, the researchers were able to analyze, document, and gauge storm characteristics and impacts based on critical factors like maximum wind speed and rainfall rate. They were also able to consider four types of ecosystems in total: freshwater, saltwater, terrestrial, and wetland ecosystems.

In speaking on the benefits of analyzing multiple ecosystems, ULL’s Dr. Kelly Robinson said, “cross-ecosystem analyses help us understand the resilience and vulnerability of animals and plants that ultimately support recreational and commercial activities along our coasts. This study provides an important reference point against which we can measure the impacts on coastal ecosystems from future hurricanes, which are predicted to strengthen as oceans warm due to climate change.”

When it comes to understanding hurricanes in an effort to not only anticipate their arrival but to prepare on how to respond to them after they pass, the regional expertise of two researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette cannot be underestimated nor undervalued.

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UL Lafayette Achieves Elite Tier of Carnegie Classification for Research

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is now ranked at the highest level of research institutions in the United States, according to a news release from the university. According to the latest update from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, UL Lafayette achieved Carnegie’s elite R1 designation, placing the school among the highest tier of public and private research institutions, something that only 3% of the United States’s colleges and universities have achieved.

Achieving the status of being a recognized R-1 institution indicates that a higher learning institution has met high standards in research spending, staff levels, and the number of doctorates awarded annually. Being classified as a Research-1 or R-1 institution not only elevated UL Lafayette and its profile, allowing the school to draw more prestigious and learned faculty, but it also is likely to attract more research dollars and private support.

Having an R1 status is synonymous with achieving remarkable levels of academic excellence, substantial research, transformative innovation, and lasting global impact. Other R-1 institutions in the country are Duke, Emory, Carnegie-Mellon, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard, and Rice. In addition to UL Lafayette, Louisiana’s only other R-1 institutions are Louisiana State University and Tulane University.

UL Lafayette President Dr. Joseph Savoie said of the milestone, “the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is excited to have achieved R-1 status and to take our place among the top tier of the nation’s research universities. The designation by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning is a recognition of the strength of our research program. It is a tribute to the faculty, staff and student researchers whose work has pushed the bounds of scholarship and innovation and drawn significant national and international attention to the University and to the region it is proud to serve.”

Carnegie classifications for Doctoral Universities are given to institutions that award at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees during a year and institutions with fewer than 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees awarded at least 30 professional practice doctoral degrees in at least 2 programs. Both of these categories of institutions must also have had at least $5 million in total research expenditures according to the National Science Foundation Higher Research & Development Survey. The three levels of Carnegie’s designations for such higher learning institutions are:

  • R1: Doctoral Universities- Very high research activity
  • R2: Doctoral Universities- High research activity
  • D/PU: Doctoral/Professional Universities.

At the tail end of 2021, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that UL Lafayette was among nine other universities that were promoted to Carnegie’s highest classification of “Doctoral/Very High Research” institutions.  The other universities elevated were:

University of Louisiana System President and CEO Jim Henderson said, “this tremendous accomplishment is the realization of a purposeful research vision centered on improving life in Louisiana and around the globe. I want to congratulate President Savoie, Vice President (Ramesh) Kolluru, and the faculty of UL Lafayette for achieving this designation, an achievement of nearly unrivaled importance for our state and her people.”

Since 1970, the Carnegie Classification has stood as the leading framework for “describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education for the past four and a half decades,” as per the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. For four and a half decades, this classification has served as a benchmark of excellence when it comes to institutions of higher learning, and for UL Lafayette to not only join the R1 Doctoral University ranks of LSU and Tulane but also ivy league schools, it’s a momentous achievement that only makes the post-secondary educational experience in Louisiana that much stronger.

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