Working on water
Federal grant to support student research into lake pollution
February 25, 2014
How about this for a summer job? Spend
eight weeks studying the problem of phosphorous pollution in Menomonie-area
lakes. The job pays $500 a week, with a transportation allowance, housing and
meals at University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Plus, the job includes a mentor to help with
getting into graduate school.
It's not too good to be true. A $282,000 grant
from the National Science Foundation will allow 10 undergraduates to take part
in a new program called LAKES REU, which stands for Linking Applied Knowledge
in Environmental Sustainability/Research Experience for Undergraduates. Two of
the undergraduates can be from UW-Stout.
The LAKES REU program will run for three
summers, starting in 2014, and is targeting minority and/or first-generation
college students, as well as those with limited research opportunities at their
Students and faculty mentors will study the
root causes of phosphorous pollution through a variety of projects in the Red
Cedar River watershed, develop possible solutions and offer students the
opportunity to participate in cutting edge research.
"The goals of this project are to prepare
under-represented undergraduate students for graduate school, to improve our
knowledge of phosphorus pollution and mitigation in an interdisciplinary and
innovative manner," said Nels Paulson, assistant professor of sociology and a
The program also is intended "to connect
the community to the university here in west-central Wisconsin to ultimately
improve our water quality and our community's standard of living," Paulson
The project will bring together faculty
from across the UW-Stout campus, including biology, sociology, economics,
anthropology, mathematics, geology and communications.
Chris Ferguson, assistant professor of
economics and a co-director of the program, said that while the bulk of the
money will be going to students, "indirectly we hope that the funding will also
help us make an impact on the entire community as we gain a better
understanding of the biological, economic and social systems at play in
cleaning up the lakes and watershed."
Phosphorus is a pernicious and costly
environmental pollutant. In areas of intensive agriculture, lakes are toxic at
certain times of the year with blue-green algae blooms because of phosphorus
pollution. The problem affects Lake Menomin in Menomonie and nearby Tainter
Lake, both part of the river watershed.
"Our ultimate goal is to generate data so
we can make evidence-based decisions about how to clean up the lake," said
Stephen Nold, biology professor and chair of the UW-Stout biology department. "We
will study all aspects of this problem, including root causes, watershed
regulations, policy formation, economic impacts and treatments that improve
lake water quality."
The research projects include exploring the
economic and social benefits of water resources in the watershed and the costs
of mitigating pollution; identifying treatment approaches to reduce algae
blooms and improve water quality; studying the sediment content to compile a
history of the human, landscape and climate influences; exploring how specific
phosphorous remediation policies have been enforced; exploring the social and
cultural conditions of farmers in the watershed; and others.
"This grant award is a prime example of how
our faculty members are willing to collaborate across all disciplines to
address societal problems through student research," said Chancellor Charles W.
Sorensen. "The phosphorous pollution of our lakes and rivers is a serious
The REU is UW-Stout's second in three
years. A $215,000 REU grant in math, also led by a group of UW-Stout faculty, is
entering its third year this summer.
Two federal REUs are rare for a university
the size of UW-Stout, said Ferguson, who also is assistant director of the
UW-Stout Honors College.
"This will be a really fabulous learning
experience for our students to interact and learn from peers from lots of other
schools," Ferguson said. "We have already received applications from students
as far away as Maine and California, so we hope this will truly be a national
center of student learning over the next few summers."
Participating students will receive a
$4,000 stipend over the eight-week period from June 15 to Aug. 8, housing in
Red Cedar Hall, a basic meal plan for on-campus dining and travel expenses.
More information is available here.