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UMW student “highly motivated”

The University of Mary Washington released the following press release today:

Thanks to an industrious University of Mary Washington senior, geography students at the university have a new tool to study stream behavior.

            Geography major Zac Wehrmann designed and built a stream table to augment class lectures, textbooks and field work. The Locust Grove, Va., resident was inspired by a sequence of geography courses and an individual study in which he is monitoring bank erosion of Fredericksburg’s Hazel Run.

 “Zac is a highly motivated student,” said Jacqueline Gallagher, associate professor of geography. “The stream table will help students better understand fluvial and coastal dynamics.”       

In the spring, professors will use the stream table in their landform processes courses, one of the classes that motivated Wehrmann to construct the replica.

            The model, which measures 6.5 feet long, 2 feet wide and 8 inches deep, represents a scaled stream, giving students the opportunity to closely observe river and coastal processes, including erosion and deposition. 

             The stream table combines water with a custom “river mix” of colorful particles that weigh half the density of sand to allow a realistic view of how water interacts in different situations.

            Factors that affect stream behavior, such as velocity, slope, and drainage density, can be scaled down for study in the stream table. Others factors include climate and geology.

            “Since it is a model, most of these variables can be manipulated to study the reaction within the system and variables can be changed accordingly,” Wehrmann said.

            With the table, students can initiate and observe river processes immediately, as opposed to on a regular time scale in the environment where change takes longer to occur and detect. Model houses, cars, trees and dams also can be added to the table to allow the students to create a portrait of what might occur in reality, Wehrmann said.

            The project, funded through the geography department and alumni donations, was built at Wehrmann’s home over the summer. He unveiled the stream table in September, showcasing his creation to Fredericksburg Academy sixth-graders during a field trip to the Fredericksburg campus and at the university’s Family Weekend open house. 

            “I’m happy to know that this stream table will be used for the department. It is nice to share my enthusiasm about physical geography with other students,” said Wehrmann, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in fluvial geomorphology, a science devoted to understanding how the natural setting and human land use in a watershed determine the shape of a river channel. “Knowing that the department is open and close knit, values student involvement and takes student considerations seriously has enhanced my experience at UMW.”

            Wehrmann also has shared his geography knowledge outside of UMW. Last year, he was one of six members of the Virginia team—all but one from UMW—that earned first place honors at the Southeast Division of the Association of American Geographers World Geography Bowl competition. In November, he’ll compete again at the Birmingham, Ala., conference, in addition to presenting his research on land use, water quality and stream behavior.

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