This year, two Dartmouth Graduate Students were selected as National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) Science To Achieve Results (STAR) Fellows by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The fellowship provides selected graduate students $25,000 dollars worth of research funding annually for three years. In addition, the NCER gives the administrative center of the STAR fellow’s institution $12,000 dollars annually for other expenses that may arise during the three-year research period.
The NCER’s STAR Fellow Program selects graduate fellows from a number of environmental science and engineering disciplines whose research will improve the scientific basis for national environmental decisions. One of the NCER’s highest priorities is ensuring that the United States has an adequate and well-trained workforce that can address the complex environmental issues of the future. This year the EPA selected Samuel Fey, a fifth-year PhD candidate in Dartmouth’s Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) program, and Marcus Welker, a third-year PhD candidate in EEB.
Originally from Farmington, Connecticut, Samuel Fey studied biology as an undergraduate at Hamilton College, worked as a research fellow for a year at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Washington DC, and is currently a fifth year PhD candidate and an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Fellow in Dartmouth’s EEB program. Sam is advised by Dr. Kathryn Cottingham, and his graduate research examines the community ecology of aquatic ecosystems. In addition, his studies focus on how both climate change and the spread of invasive species will change these ecosystems in the coming years.
As an EPA STAR Fellow, Sam intends to conduct field work and develop mathematical models that predict how biological communities will change as the world’s climate becomes warmer. This project builds upon a previous study that Sam started conducting with Cristina Herren, a Dartmouth undergraduate who is now a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. In addition to researching how climate change will affect the expansion of certain aquatic species, Sam is also examining how changes in lake temperatures will affect the frequency and severity of cyanobacterial, or blue green algae blooms.
“My research primarily focuses on how changes in temperature affect the ability of new organisms to enter an existing biological community,” explains Sam. “During my four years at Dartmouth, I’ve worked a lot with Daphnia lumholtzi, a crustacean native to African lakes which in the past few decades was introduced to the United States, and has gained traction in many lakes and reservoirs. As an EPA STAR Fellow I’m interested in using this non-native species as a model for exploring how climate change will affect the spread of non-native species through changing food web interactions.”
Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Marcus Welker received his bachelors in Natural Sciences from the University of Alaska Anchorage and his masters of science in Aquatic Resource Management from King’s College London. Currently, Marcus is a third year PhD candidate in Dartmouth’s EEB program and is an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Fellow. Marcus’s research examines the migratory patterns of Atlantic salmon, and focuses on how salmon use the distinctive patterns of amino acids found in rivers to return to the headwaters of their native streams to spawn.
As an EPA STAR Fellow, Marcus will research three aspects of the spawning patterns of Atlantic salmon. First, by sampling waters and testing them for amino acids, Marcus will examine how these amino acids change over time and over space. Secondly, Marcus will experiment with both juvenile and adult fish to understand how salmon use these amino acid signals. Finally, Marcus is examining the reception of these amino acid patterns by fish, and is researching whether the functions of these receptors change as a fish ages.
“I conduct the majority of my research in the rivers and hatcheries that surround Vermont’s Lake Champlain. Most of these hatcheries are funded by the US government, so it makes sense that I’m working with the EPA on this project,” explains Marcus. “I also work with Japanese scientists. This summer I had the opportunity to visit Japan on a National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute Fellowship to analyze water samples collected in the Lake Champlain watershed.”
“The fact that the EPA selected two Dartmouth PhD candidates as STAR Fellows really speaks to the strength of the school’s graduate programs,” says Fey. “During my five years as a member of the graduate community, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my peers and feel that these peer-to-peer interactions have helped strengthen the quality of my doctoral research.”