NSF Grant Puts Students in Midst of Brownfields, Mine Drainage, Other Health Issues

A second grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will allow Duquesne students to gain hands-on learning while tackling widespread, complex problems: brownfield remediation, acid mine and Marcellus Shale drainage and feral cat colonies.

Drs. Nancy Trun and Sarah Woodley, associate professors of biology, received a $503,270 award from the NSF to refine Trun's extremely effective methods of teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. The award expands upon a previous $205,000 NSF grant that has produced outstanding critical thinking skills and knowledge retention rates in students while training them in laboratory and technical writing skills. As a result, Trun's Superlab class serves as a national model for service learning.

The Trun and Woodley grant was among only 20 Phase II NSF grants awarded nationwide to receive more than $500,000.

"Linking classroom work with real-world activities, Duquesne is taking the lead in tapping the resources of universities and their students to improve local communities through Application Based Service Learning," said Dr. David W. Seybert, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.

With the current NSF grant, Trun and Woodley will work with nine faculty members and their students at eight institutions across the Northeast. The collaborators will tackle three project areas, developing online learning techniques to be used with different tools and research areas. Importantly, the students' data and insights could help communities.

Feral Cats

Trun and her students will continue to study issues surrounding feral cat colonies—tackling health and environmental questions concerning colonies of wild cats and work with the Homeless Cat Management Team, a nonprofit spearheaded by Trun and biology faculty Dr. Lisa Ludvico and Dr. Becky Morrow, who also is a veterinarian. The organization spays and neuters feral cats to control the population and attendant health and community issues associated with large, wild cat colonies.

Mine Drainage

Woodley and others will be involved in mine and Marcellus Shale drainage issues, partnering with the University of Akron, Mount Aloysius College and Lock Haven University to examine mine drainage incorporating geology, microbiology, water quality and physiology factors.

"We'll see how much information we can gather: what chemicals are in these areas, microbiological components and water quality will be assessed," Trun said. "Nursing and other undergraduate disciplines will be involved in other parts of the research once we have this information."

Brownfield Remediation

As former industrial sites are resurrected through brownfield redevelopments nationwide, biology students and others will conduct ground-level work leading to remediation.

Working with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) architects and State University of New York faculty and students, they will determine what chemicals the soil contains and how to make the land sustainable again.

In Pittsburgh, for instance, a former slaughterhouse has become high-end housing on Washington's Landing. Brownfield development is occurring in New York City, among the former textile mills of North Carolina and elsewhere. Duquesne and its students will work with communities affected by brownfields to sample and analyze chemicals, and to determine what steps are needed to make these former industrial sites safe and viable—all while engaging with local community groups.

Return to Winter 2012 Index