Friday Focus: Happy anniversary, NARL!

Nettie La Belle-Hamer takes a moment to enjoy a sunny day in Utqiagvik during the 75th anniversary celebration for the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory.
Photo courtesy of Nettie La Belle-Hamer
Nettie La Belle-Hamer takes a moment to enjoy a sunny day in Utqiagvik during the 75th anniversary celebration for the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory.

August 5, 2022

— By Nettie La Belle-Hamer, vice chancellor for research

In a rare week of blue-bird days in Utqiagvik, I had the honor and pleasure to participate in the 75th anniversary celebration for the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL). Hosted by Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC) this celebration brought together North Slope Borough community members, for profit and not-for-profit corporations, and both past and present Arctic researchers, including many of us from UAF.

The event was a pleasant blend of stories, history lessons, and scientific presentations. Included in the conversations was the topic of future research possibilities and partnerships. Participants broke into smaller groups to discuss key science questions and the current and future needs, by discipline, for research facilities. It was an energized, engaging, and exciting series of conversations. I look forward to making sure we distribute the resulting reports from these important discussions and am excited about the co-production possibilities!

The highlight for me as UAF’s vice chancellor for research was the announcement by UIC Science of a new scholarship they have created for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The Kenneth Toovak and Max Brewer Memorial Research Award will support one or two awards annually offering free logistical support for field research conducted in or around Utqiagvik, with special consideration for projects that include extended community-based monitoring. Yes, I said free logistical support in one of the most logistically challenging places to work! The awardees will be responsible for air travel to and from Utqiagvik and food-related costs. Let’s work together to ensure UAF students can take advantage of this fantastic opportunity! The first application deadline is Jan. 31, 2023. More information about applying for this award will be circulated from the VCR office as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

UIC Science has worked with the community to identify research priorities. Applicants are encouraged to highlight how they will address these priorities in their application. These priorities are

  1. Food, water, and energy security
  2. Environmental security
  3. Socio-environmental impact of climate change
  4. Sustainable development

A little background on why this research award is in honor of these two amazing men. Max Brewer was the director of NARL from 1956 to 1971. He is remembered for the respectful relationship he had with both the science community and the Alaska Natives he lived and worked with. He hired many Iñupiat people as he viewed their talent, skill, and knowledge key to the success of the western scientists working at NARL. This concept was a key focus this week and it was coined "back to the future" in many of our conversations. When did this partnership get lost? I am not sure, but our focus on restoring and growing it now has never been more clear to me than this week on the North Slope.

Kenneth Toovak Sr., worked at NARL for over 20 years. We had the honor of meeting his family at the ceremony when this new research award was announced. It was moving to hear about Kenneth’s work and its importance to the success of the researchers. Kenneth was revered for his ability to accomplish anything in the field that needed to be done in a way that we do not teach in formal education. Troubleshooting and problem solving in extreme weather conditions in remote locations is invaluable to researchers focused on outcomes. Many stories were told this week about how the Iñupiat saved lives with their not-so-common common sense!

I come back to Troth Yeddha’ with a renewed sense of purpose and energy thanks to this celebration of one of the most accomplished scientific endeavors. I am ready to go back to the future with you!


Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF's leadership team every week.