Kent State awarded $2.7M grant

Mariana C.S. Silva

Interdisciplinary project involves KSU, Miami University

A team of 35 faculty and six trainees from Kent State and Miami University received a $2.7 million grant for their project in aquatic sensing.

An environmental sensor is any type of device installed in the environment that can measure an environmental condition, be that in the water, air or soil.

Aquatic sensors measure conditions in the water. They are able to identify and monitor, for example, chemical compounds in the water, indicating concentration of chemicals, minerals or microorganisms in bodies of water.

The idea behind the grant is to teach students how sensors work and how they can be used, giving students the skills they need to become the next generation of researchers, said Laura Leff, aquatic microbial ecology professor and the principal investigator of the team.

“The most important ‘thing’ with this particular project is getting the stimulus, the experience and the training that (students) need to think about what the next step is,” Leff said. “We are going to tell them about the technology of today, in hopes that they will have some insight of what the future technology is going to be. We want our students to be ahead of the curve.” .

Somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. But of that amount, 3 percent is freshwater and only about 0.3 percent comes from rivers and lakes, where most of the water people use every day exists, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey.

“We really need to maintain water quality,” Leff said. “That means that we have to understand what is going on, and aquatic sensors allow us to measure things more frequently.”

Collecting samples is not always practical, and weather conditions such as snow, rain and earthquakes make collecting data difficult because researchers can’t always be physically in an area in a time period in which collecting information may be most needed, Leff said. But with the help of sensors, information can be sent through satellites and researchers can collect more information quickly.

The training grant to “Environmental Aquatic Resource Sensing: Basic Science, Business Education and Outreach” is the first Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training grant awarded to Kent State and runs through 2014.

IGERT, funded by the National Science Foundation, is an interdisciplinary training program offered to U.S. Ph.D. scientists, engineers and students that builds disciplinary knowledge based on interdisciplinary training.

The dual-institution award was funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed in February by President Barack Obama. The purpose of the program, which focuses on fresh water resources, is to train doctoral students in Environmental Aquatic Resource Sensing.

“It is a real honor to join the ranks of other IGERT recipients and particularly to focus our efforts on issues related to our fresh water resources,” said Timothy Moerland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, in a press release.

Understanding the vulnerability of fresh water resources is critical in a world where global function and human survival depend on water, Leff said.

Kent State students Sarah Hicks, Jael Edgerton and David Davis, and Miami University students Jeremy Mack, Kevin Rose and Susanna Scott, are the six IGERT trainees participating in the program.

“It is necessary for the EARS-IGERT fellows to receive training in how to use current aquatic sensors and how to interpret its data before even thinking about developing a new one for the market,” Hicks said in an e-mail interview. “Knowing that this program is in its first year and (that) the program will accept new fellows every year for five years makes us want to work harder to make this program successful for the next fellows.”

“It is a great opportunity to be able to direct where we want to go,” said Rose, whose dissertation research involves understanding and developing indicators of allochthony in lakes.

The program involves professionals from a variety of fields including biology, business, chemistry, geography, technology, computer science, zoology and liquid crystals.

“This program is giving us a chance to not only talk across the sciences but also with people in really different areas in the institution,” Leff said. “And that will give us a chance to develop new programs and new training opportunities beyond this particular grant. (It’s) something that can impact students in a lot of different ways.”

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Mariana C. S. Silva at [email protected]