March 17, 2011

Fulbright Scholar from Ethiopia Studies Geology at CWRU

Beverly Saylor and Mulugeta Araya
Beverly Saylor and Mulugeta Alene Araya study their findings
in Ethiopia in 2008. Photo by Liz Russel.

When looking to study the geology of Ethiopia, it might seem a bit backward to leave the country to come to Cleveland. But that’s exactly what Mulugeta Alene Araya did when he arrived on campus in January on a six-month Fulbright Scholarship to learn more about the geology and tectonics of hominid-bearing localities in the Afar region of Ethiopia.

“Becoming a Fulbright scholar and visiting [Case Western Reserve University] means getting access to well-equipped laboratory facilities in the campus and related links and also having access to the latest literature at CWRU and affiliate libraries,” Araya explained. “Moreover, it provides the opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas with project members and other scientists, participate in talks and lectures, closely explore the American culture and interact with the people.”

Araya, who is an associate professor at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and a visiting researcher at Case Western Reserve, is working with Beverly Saylor, associate professor of geological sciences. Prior to his visit, the two already were—and still are—part of a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary team working on a paleoanthropological research project led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie, the curator of physical anthropology at Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

By studying the geology of the WORMIL Paleoanthropology Research Project area of the Afar region—part of the East African Rift System where the African tectonic plate is rupturing—and the thousands of 3.4- to 4-million-year-old animal fossils found there, Saylor and Araya’s team are trying to reconstruct the landscape and environment in which the animals lived. The Afar area “was quite active—subject to huge, explosive volcanic eruptions and repeated basalt flows. Thus, understanding the volcanic evolution of the area is very important,” Saylor explained.

Their research of the Afar area, Araya said, could contribute to “unraveling Earth’s geodynamic behavior as well as the origin and evolution of humans.”

It’s a lot of work to do before he leaves in June, especially considering the vast cultural opportunities he has while in the U.S. So far, he’s visited cities from coast to coast and has hit up numerous institutions in Cleveland, including Great Lakes Science Center and Dittrick Museum of Medical History. Additionally, he will give talks at Kent State University (Ashtabula campus) and Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

After the Fulbright Scholarship ends in June, Araya intends to return to Ethiopia to continue teaching, research and publish his findings. Additionally, Saylor noted, they have submitted a proposal to continue the project. “If funded, there is money budgeted for Mulugeta to return to the U.S. each year to continue his geochemical research,” Saylor said. With his home in Ethiopia near the area of study, his teamwork with Saylor and others, and the resources available at Case Western Reserve, Araya is prepped with plenty of tools to make a significant breakthrough.

Posted by: Emily Mayock, March 17, 2011 09:42 AM | News Topics: College of Arts and Sciences

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