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Student Sustainability Research Award Winner Series: Meet Matthew Fischel

This is the fourth and last in our four-part series celebrating winners of student sustainability research prizes co-sponsored by Gale-Cengage Learning and the university libraries at Temple University and the University of Delaware.

The prizes, and this blog, are supported by GREENR (Global Reference on the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources), an interdisciplinary web portal and database for environmental and sustainability studies, available at participating libraries (including the University of Delaware and Temple University) worldwide. GREENR is a valuable asset for any student, researcher or instructor focused on the field of environmental and sustainability studies, offering impressive assets in academic journals, news, video, statistics, primary source documents and case studies. Check to see if GREENR is available at your library, or ask your librarian to request a free trial.

Matthew Fischel was honored with the Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research in Sustainability Prize at the University of Delaware for “Kinetics of Arsenite Exodation by Manganese Oxide Minerals: Importance for Water Quality and Environmental Sustainability.”

We asked Matthew via email some questions about how he became interested in environmental and sustainability studies, about advice she can give to other environmental studies students, and about his future plans. For more stories about what it’s like to be an environmental and sustainability studies student, please check out our on-going series, The Life of an Environmental Studies Student.

What got you interested in environmental and sustainability studies in college? Tell us about how you became engaged in sustainability in your college career?

Spending time outdoors has had an immeasurable influence on many aspects of my life, and I have always wanted to pursue a career that focuses on the environment. I choose to study environmental soil science in college, because I believe soil is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the environment. Scientific research is often centered on the biotic communities occurring above the soil; however, there is an extraordinary amount of life and diversity found in the soil below these ecosystems. The summer before I began college at the University of Delaware I was able to start conducting undergraduate research in Dr. Sparks’s soil chemistry laboratory. This research provided me with the technical and analytical foundation to plan and conduct my own experiments, ultimately leading to my work on arsenic oxidation by manganese oxides. These minerals are important in the natural world because they are able to immobilize many harmful compounds that either occur naturally, or are introduced by anthropogenic means. I choose to research manganese oxides because they protect the health of Delawareans that live near chicken farms, which once used arsenic to rid poultry of parasites. The arsenic is excreted by the birds and applied to agricultural fields, where it can enter the water supply. Manganese sorbs arsenic to the soil and prevents it from entering groundwater. I then discovered that many developing nations have issues with arsenic contaminated groundwater and the sustainability of the water resources in these regions depended on finding solutions to this arsenic problem, which included the use of manganese minerals to purify contaminated water.

What lessons did you learn through your research? What major discoveries or new ways of seeing the world would you share with others, based on your research? What was the hardest part about conducting your research and writing the paper? What was the most rewarding part?

My research was both challenging and rewarding, because I worked nearly independently on this project. However, planning and conducting my own experiments has honed my research skills and helped me to reap the full benefits of my university education. During my presentation at the summer symposium I discovered the value of discussing my research with others. I was able to greatly expand my understanding of the applicability of my project to other areas of the world by sharing my project with scientists from around the globe. The hardest part of conducting this research was designing and completing the reactions, which required sampling over the course of multiple days. The most rewarding aspect of this project was being recognized for my work and having the chance to share it with others.

Do you have any advice for future environmental and sustainability studies students? For your peers at other universities, or at your own university?

Students that are interested in environmental and sustainability studies at the University of Delaware and other institutions should find an internship in an area they find fascinating. This will provide invaluable experience that will help them discover their real passion. One of the best options is to find a professor with a project you can work on, and then apply for funding through an institution such as the National Science Foundation. Do not be afraid to ask professors about researching opportunities, as most of them would be thrilled to have a student to work with.

What are your plans after graduation? Do you hope to enter a field where you can use what you’ve learned about the environment?

After I graduate from the University of Delaware, I plan to enter graduate school in an environmentally related field. My ultimate goal is to become a college professor and contribute to our understanding of the environment. I plan to focus on studying how to utilize finite natural resources to promote the interconnected prosperity of both humans and the environment.

Posted on: December 15, 2011, 9:00 am Category: GREENR News, The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , ,

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