Three grad students earn national research fellowships

PULLMAN, Wash. – Three graduate students recently earned national fellowships that will help them further their research at Washington State University.

Sarah Waldo and Emily Hall are among 105 students nationwide to receive Science to Achieve Results (STAR) fellowships from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ian Richardson is one of 54 to earn the Space Technology Research Fellowship from NASA.

Hall-80Hall, a doctoral student in biological sciences, will receive $84,000 over two years to investigate whether de-icing salts, used on the northeastern United States’ wintry roads, are making wood frog tadpoles more susceptible to disease. The salts leach into ponds from nearby roads.

Her preliminary results show tadpoles in close proximity to roads have higher fatality rates than those located deeper in the forest. Her hypothesis is that the tadpoles spend more energy getting rid of salt and less energy growing and developing their immune system, which makes them more susceptible to disease and viruses.

She plans to use her STAR funding to further investigate the correlation between de-icing salt exposure and tadpole die-off from ranaviruses, a group of DNA viruses that affect cold-blooded vertebrates.

“Wood frogs and wood frog tadpoles make up an important part of this ecosystem and they need to be preserved,” she said.

Waldo-80Waldo, a doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering, will receive up to $42,000 per year for two years to support research into factors influencing greenhouse gas emission and absorption in agricultural fields.

Because crops and soils can take up carbon dioxide, agriculture is a potential reservoir for removing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and mitigating climate change. However, farms also emit nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.

Nitrous oxide emissions are small compared to human sources of carbon dioxide, but they are important because the gas is 300 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over 100 years. It also destroys the “good” ozone in the stratosphere that protects life on earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.

“To look at science and policy together appeals to me,’’ said Waldo. “I like learning about the world through science and research but I was also motivated by wanting to make a difference and by science that has impact. Keeping in mind how research can inform policies to protect the environment or human health is important.’’

Richardson-80Richardson, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, received a grant worth up to $74,000 per year to improve understanding and make fundamental measurements of hydrogen-helium mixtures that occur in rocket fuel tanks.

Liquid hydrogen is the preferred rocket fuel of NASA and other aerospace companies. As a rocket burns liquid hydrogen, pressure in the fuel storage tank decreases. Cold helium gas is pumped into the fuel tank to maintain tank pressure and stability.

The interaction between cold helium gas and liquid hydrogen is not well understood. Richardson’s research aims to characterize this interaction and improve understanding of rocket fuels.

With a longtime interest in space and space exploration technologies, Richardson said he was fortunate to end up working in a hydrogen laboratory, which is primarily of interest to the aerospace industry. He hopes to have a future career in aerospace and even to travel to space one day.