Chantal Iosso '20
Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)
This summer, I conducted research at NC State University in Raleigh through a NSF-funded REU (research experience for undergraduates) called Basic and Environmental Soil Science Training (BESST). The focus of this program, which included 7 other undergraduates and 8 professor mentors in a variety of environmental science fields, was to provide a hands-on understanding of what environmental soil scientists do in and out of academia. As such, the 10-week program included a weeklong field course from the Outer Banks to the North Carolinian Blue Ridge learning how to identify and characterize different NC soils, lectures with people involved in soil science research, a trip to Duke's Critical Zone Observatory, and a tour of the EPA and the Research Triangle Institute.
The main portion of the program, however, was an individual research project; mine was with Biological Engineering Professor Francois Birgand and ironically had nothing to do with soil (other student's projects were soil related). Agriculture and development in NC creates polluted runoff that must legally be treated before it can flow into the environment, so stormwater ponds abound as a cheap, but largely ineffective, treatment solution. Floating Treatment Wetlands (FTW) are a synthetic mat planted with local wetland plants that drift on top of stormwater ponds and other water bodies and have been shown to increase nutrient removal in previous, long-term studies.
My research centered on studying the impact of FTW, compared to unplanted mats and control tanks, on nutrient removal and other water quality characteristics with high-resolution data to calculate kinetics. This involved lots of time in the (100+ degree) greenhouse troubleshooting the multiplexer, an automatic water sampler, and taking measurements by hand. This gave me new appreciation for the second stage, doing data analysis in an air conditioned office! We found that the first and zero order nitrate removal rate was much higher in ponds treated with FTW, but dissolved oxygen was extremely low beneath the mats. We're planning on coupling this work with a field study run by Bryan Maxwell and Dani Winters, two other NC State students, for a potential paper that will provide a fuller understanding about whether FTW can really be an effective treatment solution. In the meantime, I'll be presenting my findings at GSA this fall.