Q&A with Jordyn Stoll P.h.D. candidate in Biological Sciences in Dr. David Costello Aquatic Ecology Lab; and Department of Energy Fellow through Oak Ridge National Lab
Office of Sustainability October 2020 Newsletter
Jordyn is using a BenthoTorch to look at community composition on biofilms growing on nutrient diffusing substrate in Jennings Woods on the west branch of the Mahoning River on 10/12/20.
What is your area of research or interest?
I study how nutrients affect algae at the community and ecosystem level. Algae are basically tiny plants that thrive in water, especially water that has a lot of dissolved nutrients in it. I study how different nutrients at different concentrations and ratios influence algae community composition and processes like growth, toxin production, and even mercury methylation.
What made you interested in pursuing this area?
I grew up on Lake Erie and have always been drawn to the natural world. During my undergrad I majored in biology and environmental science, and conducted research with algae. That taste of research ignited my passion for using scientific methods to answer questions empirically. It's incredibly exciting to contribute to our understanding of the natural world!
What is your favorite part of your position or research?
Being an ecologist is a blast! I get to do field work and lab work, as well as data analysis and writing. Everyday is different, but I'm always learning and growing from my experience. My favorite part of my current position is probably how wonderful my advisor, labmates, and department as a whole are. Everyone is super supportive and I'm very thankful for all of them.
What type of work or research are you doing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)?
My work at Oak Ridge is investigating how nutrients influence mercury methylation in stream biofilms. Elemental mercury (like what used to be in thermometers) itself isn't super toxic, but when it's methylated (when a carbon is added to the molecule) it becomes a very potent neurotoxin, and is a large reason for fish consumption advisories. Recent research suggests that this methylation process is amplified in biofilms because of the symbiotic relationship of the organisms within them. My work aims to tease apart the relationship of the algae and methylating organisms within the biofilm to understand how nutrients influence the methylation process. In theory, more nutrients = thicker biofilms = more opportunity for mercury methylation, but it's a little more complicated than that.
What are your favorite accomplishments or projects you have worked on so far?
In my field, most people study macronutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) because higher concentrations of them are needed within cells, so they are thought to be able to limit cellular processes when at low concentrations. I've been investigating the role of micronutrients such as various trace metals (e.g. zinc, cobalt, molybdenum), which are only needed at very low concentrations and are understudied in general. So far, I have evidence for micronutrient serial limitation in algae, which means that after macronutrients, micronutrients can limit algae processes. In my opinion, that's pretty neat!
What career or path do you see yourself pursuing after graduation?
I'm open to whatever opportunities arise, but I plan on doing a few post-docs before settling on a long term job. Post-docs allow researchers to gain more experience and grow their skill set before trying to lock down a permanent position.
What is Project Green Challenge? How are you involved?
Project Green Challenge is a 30 day challenge happening now through the end of October that is all about becoming a more educated, sustainable individual. I'm a campus rep for Kent State, and have been spreading the word and encouraging folks to participate. The challenge is run by a non-profit out of California called Turning Green, and their mission is to engage students and teach them how to live more sustainably. The challenge is interactive and offers a ton of prizes, and I genuinely believe that if more people took the challenge and learned about sustainability, the world would be so much better of a place, so much sooner. We will eventually run out of resources at our current rate, the sooner people understand that, the better off we all are.
Anything else you’d like to add/tell think is important to mention?
We all play a role in protecting our natural resources. Not using lawn fertilizer or road salt, using rain barrels, and reducing the amount of impervious surfaces on your property are all really great ways to protect your local watershed! Eating less meat helps to protect watersheds globally, not to mention the Amazon Rainforest, as large swaths of it are being clear cut and turned into pastures for cattle as we speak.
Thank you Jordyn!