02/24 - Distance From KazNU to UNL Continues to Shrink


The distance separating Almaty, Kazakhstan and Lincoln, Nebraska – some 6,500 miles – continues to shrink thanks to a burgeoning partnership in water sciences nurtured by researchers on both continents. 

Last September, Dan Snow, director of the Nebraska Water Center’s Water Sciences Laboratory (WSL), and Alan Kolok, a biology professor at the University of Nebraska, Omaha and director of the Nebraska Watershed Network, traveled to Kazakhstan to share a little of what they have learned about biology and chemistry in a nine-day ecotoxicology workshop at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, affectionately known as Al-Farabi KazNU.

To build on that momentum, Al-Farabi KazNU chemistry graduate students Zhandos Shalabayev and Samgat Nugmanov spent 10 days at UNL in February, learning about the similarities and differences between river basins in Kazakhstan and Nebraska. In the fall 2014 issue of the Nebraska Water Center’s Water Current newsletterSnow and Kolok wrote how “Both regions face enormous and complex water quality issues…across wide geographies that can dramatically vary over time.” 

As the world’s largest landlocked country – its span east to west equals that of New York to Los Angeles – Kazakhstan is also a leading producer of uranium ore. Nebraska too is a large, landlocked area that, like Kazakhstan, has its own uranium deposits and is impacted by uranium weathered and transported from large deposits in the Rocky Mountains. Though the element occurs naturally and is found everywhere in small amounts, elevated levels due to activities like mining can pose significant health risks, most notably to kidneys. 

Because Kazakhstan’s contamination is historically more pronounced and the resources to deal with it more limited, the impetus to collaborate is greater, says Shalabayev.

“Our primary goal is to visit the WSL and introduce opportunities and increase collaboration between the USA and Kazakhstan.” His dissertation will focus on the evolution of radionuclides contamination in southern Kazakhstan. 

For his part, Nugmanov is examining how to purify water contaminated with elevated amounts of metals like copper, tin and zinc. “My goal is to create a water quality filter using glauconite.” Nugmanov hopes to use glauconite as a “Brita filter” to purify water used in uranium mining. 

Fittingly, the duo was also able to visit some of Lincoln’s noted tourist destinations. “We went to the Nebraska State Capitol and saw the big bison at a park.” Because ice is rarely used in Kazakhstan, they also were “amazed” to be served ice water at a local Chinese restaurant.

Overall, Shalabayev says, they will leave with a good impression of Lincoln and its people: “It is a very good city. The local people are very kind, sincere and friendly.”