WSU, NSF Invest $5 Million in Unique Graduate Program

PULLMAN, Wash. — More than 60 doctoral-seeking students at Washington State
University will be funded over the next five years to conduct cutting-edge research and explore
solutions to the environmental problems of the Earth’s air, water and land.
A $2.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation, combined with matching funds
from WSU, will allow U.S. doctoral students to cross the boundaries of engineering, sciences
and agriculture, and to learn the accompanying dynamics of government and economics.
The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training award fosters interdisciplinary
activities that include partnerships with industry and government labs, and addresses problems
of global concern. Each year, 14-28 graduate students supported by this grant will work together
in co-located labs. They will receive mentoring and training to deal with complex environmental
Washington-based industries and government agencies will offer internships, hands-on
research opportunities and mentoring. Such organizations include Weyerhaeuser and Boise
Cascade, Department of Energy and Department of Defense contractors at Hanford, the Idaho
National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Tyndall Air Force Base, the Bureau of
Mines, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology.
“This innovative program is important for Washington state, because it builds a corps of
scientists and engineers of a new culture,” says U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, who lent legislative
support for the IGERT grants. “They will think like team players with government and industry
and develop technologies to address regional, national and international environmental
problems. The end product we seek is a cadre of graduates to work in national labs, universities
or industry who understand cross-field teaming, and the big picture about environmental
Students from eight WSU departments in three colleges will be coordinated through the
Center for Multiphase Environmental Research in the College of Engineering and Architecture.
The grant will cover graduate student tuition, lab equipment, travel and other research costs.
“Graduate research is at the heart of the IGERT program,” says principal investigator James
Petersen, CMER director. “The infusion of extra graduate students will speed research about
environmental problems that are of interest to the Northwest, but also have worldwide
Examples include:
— How bacteria can transform hazardous compounds in soils, such as chromate, uranium and
others to non-hazardous, or even beneficial, forms. Results will benefit Lake Coeur d’Alene,
Hanford, tribal lands and international sites.
— Chemical interactions between hazardous compounds and soil surfaces. Such technology
applies to the cleanup of the Hanford Site, better agricultural waste management techniques and
reduction of waste from mine sites.
— Computer predictions of atmospheric pollutant transport in the Puget Sound region and of
subsurface transport at contaminated sites like Hanford. The results will help solve similar
problems in Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries.
— Bioremediation of creosote-soaked wood. This can help waterfront communities address
recycling of chemically-treated piers and facilities.
— How dust is drawn up and transported. A health effects study of air particulate in Spokane aims
to determine what, where and how the air dust is generated, its effects on humans, and how to
reduce the problems. These studies will also apply to erosion issues in such countries as
Uzbekistan, where past practices created wastelands with hazardous dust.
Besides working on industry and government projects and serving internships, students will
take new courses to help them understand the social, legal and political aspects of environmental
“Outstanding graduate students will be recruited via undergraduate research participation
and interactions with targeted regional colleges and universities, including Northwest Indian
College and Salish Kootenai College,” says Petersen. Women, Hispanics and Native American
students will be encouraged to pursue advanced science and engineering degrees.
This is WSU’s first grant from the NSF IGERT program, which is only in its second year
nationwide. This year, 22 universities were chosen from a field of some 800 applicants. Only a
handful of the grant recipients deal with environmental issues.