Get to know the StREAM Lab Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates

The StREAM Lab Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates, funded by the National Science Foundation, welcomed its second cohort of summer research fellows on June 2013. Hosted by the Department of Biological Systems Engineering in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the StREAM REU program provides undergraduate students from around the country with the opportunity to conduct interdisciplinary research exploring the impacts of human activities on local water quality and quantity.

Although the focus of specific student projects can vary widely, each project is grounded within the Stream Research, Education, and Management  Lab, a state-of-the-art outdoor laboratory located on Stroubles Creek in Blacksburg. An extensive array of real-time, spatio-temporal sensors at this site permit faculty and students to investigate complex, systems-level interactions within a relatively small, manageable stream and its drainage area.

The StREAM Lab also represents an ideal opportunity to witness the effects of urbanization on surface waters impacted by agricultural or forested lands: Stroubles Creek is fed by the springs that attracted the original settlers to the Blacksburg area, and the creek has been piped below the Drillfield and through the Virginia Tech Duck Pond.

Undergraduate fellows in this year’s nine-week REU program represented seven home universities from across the nation including Texas A&M-Commerce, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and diverse primary disciplines such as environmental engineering, landscape architecture, and animal science. Throughout the summer, students actively participated in the scientific process: writing literature reviews, planning and executing field work, and sharing their knowledge with the public through laboratory exercises for students at Virginia Tech’s Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity Imagination Summer Camp. The program culminated with student presentations at the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Research Symposium, which provided participants with a chance to share their findings and network with other students visiting Virginia Tech for the summer.

“The StREAM Lab REU program was a great mix of hands-on research experience, academic challenge, and outdoor adventure,” said Emily Von Wagoner, a rising sophomore at University of Vermont majoring in Environmental Science. “I had the most memorable, meaningful summer thanks to engaging mentors and energetic research fellows who took advantage of every opportunity to teach, learn, and explore.”

The StREAM REU is co-directed each summer by Cully Hession and Leigh Anne Krometis, both of BSE, and the students are mentored by faculty groups representing seven different departments and five colleges (see the StREAM-REU website for a list of participating faculty). These faculty and their graduate students contribute considerable time, knowledge, resources, and experience to ensure the undergraduates’ success. The goals of the four undergraduate group projects during Summer 2013 were:

  • Antibiotic Resistance Genes — identification of the source(s) and transport behavior of antibiotic resistance genes in the Stroubles Creek watershed
  • Sediment-Associated Bacteria — characterization of the fate and transport of sediment-bound fecal indicator bacteria during significant storm events
  • Denitrifying Bioreactor — construction of a lab-scale denitrifying bioreactor to investigate the potential for real-world installation in Blacksburg
  • Floodplain reconnection — observation of the nutrient transport and hydraulics of a floodplain reconnected to Stroubles Creek

In addition to providing the undergraduate fellows with the opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary research and explore future careers in academia and research, many of these projects provide faculty mentors with preliminary data and new collaborative opportunities.

“Working with the StREAM REU program was highly enjoyable because of its collaborative nature and its unique approach using ‘teams’ of students to address research projects,” said Brian Badgley, assistant professor in crop and soil environmental science.

“Assigning multiple students to a single project allowed us to tackle logistically demanding research questions that would not have been possible if we had to rely on a single individual,” Badgley said.

The StREAM Lab has served as a site for ongoing integrative research and education efforts across numerous disciplines since 2009, with currently participating faculty members from ten different departments and five colleges at Virginia Tech. Efforts initiated by the 2013 undergraduate fellows are therefore likely to lead to new long-term projects and a further expansion of active research areas by new faculty.

Although StREAM REU waved goodbye to its 2013 fellows with hugs and a few tears in early August, the search for next summer’s undergraduate fellows is not far away! For more information, please visit our official website, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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