Department of Energy Selects Two Kent State Biology Ph.D. Students for Prestigious Research Program

Two Kent State University students, in the College of Arts and Sciences, were among 62 students from 50 different U.S. universities recently selected for funding by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program.

 

Chelsea E. Smith and Jordyn T. Stoll, both pursuing a Ph.D. in Ecology from the Department of Biological Sciences, were selected. Smith will go to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), in Richland, Washington for one year and study soil microbiology, and Stoll will go to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and study environmental systems science for four months.

 

The goal of the SCGSR program is to prepare U.S. graduate students for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission, by providing graduate thesis research opportunities through extended residency at DOE national laboratories. It provides opportunities for graduate students to conduct part of their doctoral thesis research at a DOE laboratory/facility, in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist. A supplemental award provides support for inbound and outbound travel to the laboratory, and a monthly stipend of up to $3,000 for general living expenses while at the host DOE laboratory.

 

Smith to assess phosphate in arctic soils

Smith, a Brunswick, Ohio native who currently works in Assistant Professor Dr. Lauren Kinsman-Costello’s lab is looking forward to “this wonderful opportunity” and said it allows her “to collaborate with top researchers, have access to world class technologies through PNNL’s Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory (EMSL), and gain experience working alongside a professional research team.”

 

Her project aims to assess microbial phosphorus acquisition in arctic soils. She will study various mechanisms that microorganisms use to access phosphate that is not readily available. In arctic systems, phosphate can be scarce, limiting carbon metabolism that could potentially lead to greenhouse gas release from thawing permafrost.

 

“Phosphorus is an important nutrient for life, but it is finite,” Smith said. “It can often be in excess and cause harmful algal blooms like those that occur in the Great Lakes or it can be scarce, thereby, limiting carbon metabolism that can lead to greenhouse gas release from thawing permafrost. Due to the uncertainties associated with climate change it is important to understand how organisms access phosphorus when it is not readily available. In doing so, we can start to understand the different mechanisms employed by microorganisms in various ecosystems.”  

 

Last summer she studied phosphorus availability across a permafrost thaw gradient in Abisko, Sweden in collaboration with Andreas Kappler’s research group at Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen. She’s also been mentoring an undergraduate student who is studying the seasonal changes of phosphate bioavailability in a vernal pond ecosystem.

 

Stoll to study neurotoxins in streams
Stoll, a Vermilion, Ohio native who currently works in Assistant Professor Dr. Dave Costello’s lab is honored to be a DOE fellow and said she “can’t wait to start my work at Oak Ridge!” Initially her project was set to start in July, but due to the COVID pandemic, it was shifted to August 2020. Her project, “Direct and Indirect Effects of Micronutrients on Methyl Mercury Production” aims to investigate the role of nutrients on mercury (Hg) methylation in stream biofilms. Elemental mercury is methylated (meaning a carbon is added to it) by bacteria in stream biofilms, transforming it into the neurotoxin methylmercury. Methylmercury is dangerous because the concentration in organisms increases (or bioaccumulates) as you move up the food chain.  

 

“Most folks care about this because it is a large reason why there are fish consumption advisories, because the fish we like to eat have bioaccumulated dangerously high concentrations of methylmercury,” Stoll said. “My research goal is to understand how biofilms respond to nutrients and determine if specific nutrients cause higher rates of mercury methylation in stream biofilms. The data we collect will hopefully be used to inform toxin transport models that researchers at the DOE have been working on.

Stoll is also working on a critical review of the nutrient enrichment literature to determine if studies that measure more outcomes of nutrient enrichment provide greater insight to the processes occurring in the algal communities studied. She hopes to provide direction for future nutrient enrichment studies so that researchers can get the most out of their work.

“As with all research, practically nothing is an accomplishment entirely of my own,” Stoll said. “I have had tremendous support and guidance from my advisor, lab mates, committee, writing group, journal club, and fellow grad students in our department. Furthermore, we stand on the shoulders of giants. If it wasn't for the extensive work previously done in my field, I wouldn't be able to be making the strides that I am making today. I am eternally grateful for the community of folks that have dedicated their life's work to better understanding the natural world.” 

 

Stoll said she is impressed with the research that comes out of ORNL. “We have had a few researchers from ORNL give seminar talks for our department and I've always been jealous of their state-of-the-art equipment and what it permits them to study and learn about” she said. “ORNL is basically a researcher's dream!”
 

“The methodology for measuring mercury methylation requires state of the art equipment and is basically only done at ORNL,” Stoll said. “Our collaborator, Dr. Scott Brooks, has been fine tuning the methodology in his lab, and if it wasn't for this fellowship or his lab's work, I wouldn't have the opportunity to conduct this research.”

 

To learn more about the DoE Office of Science awards program, visit: https://science.osti.gov/wdts/scgsr/SCGSR-Awards

To learn more about our Department of Biological Sciences, visit: https://www.kent.edu/biology

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Media Contact:
Jim Maxwell, 330-672-8028, jmaxwel2@kent.edu

POSTED: Monday, June 1, 2020 - 9:52pm
UPDATED: Monday, June 1, 2020 - 10:05pm
WRITTEN BY:
Jim Maxwell