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Meet Luke Telfer, winner of the Western Association for Graduate Schools 3MT

Hydrologic sciences masters student Luke Telfer recently won the Western Association of Graduate Schools’ 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition for his presentation on “Wildfire, Water, and Supercomputers.” Telfer also competed and placed second in the statewide 3MT, and placed first in the Boise State 3MT. Telfer is expected to graduate in 2021, and will hold three degrees from Boise State: a bachelors of business administration supply chain management awarded in 2010, as well as a bachelors of geoscience with an emphasis in hydrology awarded in 2019.

Born in Spokane, Washington, growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, and a high school student in Madra, Oregon, Telfer melded his experiences as a wildland firefighter and EMT with his education at Boise State to study the interaction between wildfire and hydrology.

man in woods wearing hiking gear and hat

Q and A with Luke Telfer

How did you get interested in this research?

“I became an EMT and wildland firefighter in 2014. My experiences on the fire line, especially interactions with the communities I served, made me want to understand the impacts of wildfire after the fire was out and the fire crews moved on. I didn’t start my geoscience education specifically to study wildfire, but inevitably gravitated toward that field like a moth to a lightbulb.”

How is your research unique?

“Hydrologic models have been used in a wide range of applications, including to study the interactions between wildfire and hydrology. My research extends this tool in a somewhat novel way in order to specifically look at spatial patterns in burned areas and how those patterns influence water movement.”

Who and what does this research impact?

“Here in the West, we get most of our water from mountain watersheds. Severe wildfire in these areas can cause a sudden change to how much water comes out and when. This impacts water resource management efforts including reservoir management and irrigation distribution. The watersheds themselves often experience catastrophic debris flows and/or sedimentation problems that can affect recreation, fish populations, etc. My research can hopefully narrow some of the uncertainty in predicting the hydrologic impact which would help in targeting preventative rehabilitation efforts and/or preparing for changes downstream.”

Did you have a significant mentor, or someone who changed your course?

“Dr. Jen Pierce did a lot to get me into research during my geoscience undergraduate (opportunities, mentorship, guidance, etc.). I probably pestered her too much but she never complained and always encouraged me to continue challenging myself. I am incredibly grateful. Thanks!”

What do you want the average person on the street to know about you / your work?

“There seems to be a lot of distrust regarding scientific work these days. I want the average person to know that we’re just people who want to better understand and communicate how the world and all its crazy phenomena operate. That’s it. That’s the agenda.”

What song is always on your playlist?

“‘Our Hearts of Ruin’ by Blue Sky Black Death. When I was doing initial attack assignments as a wildland firefighter I would often sleep under the stars on a cot next to the engine and listen to this song as I fell asleep. The song just had this perfect atmosphere to it. I keep listening to it for sentimental reasons and it never gets old to me.”